"Radioactivity is the gift that keeps on giving," Steenstra said.
Issues revolving around fracking affect primarily the northern part of the state, under which the Marcellus shale formation runs. Six landfills in the state currently accept drill cuttings, according to the DEP, concentrated in and around the northern Panhandle.
In Wetzel County, on the border with southwestern Pennsylvania, a landfill once authorized to accept only 9,999 tons of solid waste each month took in more than 40,000 tons in October, according to the county's Solid Waste Authority. roughly 75 percent of the volume was from drill cutting.
Ryan Inch, director of engineering at the Wetzel landfill and three others owned by J.P. Mascaro and Sons in Audubon, Pa., said he believes the concerns about radiation are a nonissue. In Pennsylvania, where landfills are required to monitor all incoming trash for radiation, he said his landfills have accepted nearly 2,500 truckloads of drill cuttings, and that only one triggered radiation detectors, finding levels just twice the level of background radiation.
He said it's far more common for the detectors to be set off due to byproducts from nuclear medicine: if a someone blows their nose after receiving a radioactive dye injection as part of a medical test, for instance.
Inch also disputes that the July memo from the state gives landfills any more leeway than they already had. He said West Virginia law has always made an exception for drill cuttings, and they are not defined as "solid waste" under state law, and said the July memo merely clarifies the status quo.
Bill Hughes - chairman of the Wetzel County Solid Waste Authority, which is opposing the landfill's expansion to accommodate fracking waste - insists drill cuttings are regulated under the solid waste law. He said he is also concerned about radiation and that the state needs to independently investigate whether the drill cuttings pose a public health risk. Unlike Pennsylvania, West Virginia does not require testing waste for radioactivity.
"Landfills have never seen a ton of waste they don't want to take," Hughes said. "Our state just sort of trusts the garbage guys."
Corky Demarco, executive director of the West Virginia Oil and Natural Gas Association, said he believes the complaints about landfills are just a backdoor way of trying to rein in fracking operations.
"They've tried water and air, and that hasn't worked" for environmentalists, Demarco said. "Now they're going after the drill cuttings."