Crews have stopped cleaning up low-level radioactive waste that has been stored in Denton for more than a decade following a dispute over back taxes.
Kensington Title Service, a Nevada real estate group, foreclosed on two properties owned by U.S. Radiopharmaceuticals last year. Kensington hired Tennessee-based Chase Environmental Group to decommission the sites, after state health officials approved its $1.8 million plan to ship all the waste, including contaminated equipment, for disposal in West Texas.
Chris Van Deusen, spokesman for the Texas Department of State Health Services, confirmed the work stoppage.
“We were notified that work on site has stopped and are satisfied that the facilities remain secure and we can access them, if necessary,” Van Deusen wrote in an email.
John O’Neil, director of radiological services for Chase, declined to answer questions about the stoppage, saying he had signed a client confidentiality agreement. Neither Joseph Broderick nor John Bisnar of Kensington could be reached for comment.
Paul Crowe, president of USR, did not return an email requesting comment.
According to a city staff report to the Denton City Council on Friday, Chase found more contaminated material than anticipated at the USR site on Shady Oaks Drive. No work has been done on the equipment and other contaminated materials at another USR site on Jim Christal Road.
The story begins long ago, after a small Denton company, International Isotopes, acquired the linear accelerator from Texas’ never-finished Superconducting Super Collider project in the mid-1990s. The company was using cyclotrons at its plant on Jim Christal Road to make isotopes, including those that can be used for medical research and treatment.
The linear accelerator increased the company’s capabilities to make a wider variety of medical radioisotopes, such as those used to diagnose and treat cancers. International Isotopes built another plant on Shady Oaks Drive to house the linear accelerator. The company was later acquired by Trace Life Sciences. The plants closed in 2009, shortly before they were swept into federal receivership as part of an investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission into the company’s financial backers. The Denton plants were not implicated in the matter.
A Utah company, NuView Life Sciences, formed U.S. Radiopharmaceuticals and plucked the Denton plants from receivership. But Crowe and USR were never able to raise the capital to reopen the business. Last July, a state administrative law judge sided with the state health commissioner and ordered the two sites decommissioned, giving USR one year to do the job.
According to state officials, USR has never taken any active steps toward decommissioning the two sites and remains in violation of state rules and regulations for its inaction.
By the end of April, Chase and Kensington finished about the half of the cleanup, according to the report to the City Council. But Chase and Kensington also notified state officials they stopped work as of May 10, citing an 11-year-old property tax dispute with USR.
According to deed records filed with the county, Kensington foreclosed on the real property, but not the taxable personal property: the linear accelerators and cyclotrons. County tax records show that USR remains the owner of that equipment, which is contaminated and must be disposed of as part of the state-ordered decommissioning.
An unsigned report to the city staff by its tax attorneys, Sawko & Burroughs law firm in Denton, said that once equipment is destroyed through decommissioning, the personal property tax liability against the equipment is no longer secured, making it difficult to collect.
However, the report assured city leaders “no action has been taken regarding tax collections enforcement by the city, county or school district that should impede or prevent decommissioning/clean-up of the subject property.”
Of the $351,825 past due to the city of Denton, only about $9,300 is secured by the real property, according to the report. The remaining past due amount is likely secured by the contaminated equipment.
In all, USR owes nearly $1.2 million in back taxes, interest and penalties to the city, county and school district on the equipment, according to county tax records.