State health officials have begun enforcement proceedings against a Utah company for failing to remove low-level radioactive waste stored in Denton for the past decade.
U.S. Radiopharmaceuticals faces a possible $2.2 million fine for missing a state deadline to decommission the waste and contaminated equipment. In June, the Texas Department of State Health Services returned to state courts in the long-running case. A hearing with a state administrative law judge on the enforcement matter is set for Aug. 6 in Austin.
According to the hearing notice, USR faces the fine for three reasons: failing to propose a cleanup plan, failing to divest itself of the radioactive materials and failing to maintain constant surveillance of the properties.
Officials continue to say the two former USR facilities, on Jim Christal Road and on Shady Oaks Drive, are secure and pose no imminent danger to public health even though state inspectors have not returned to Denton in recent weeks.
“Any material still on site is contained and secure, so [the waste and equipment] remaining there for now doesn’t present a safety concern,” said Chris Van Deusen, spokesman for the Department of State Health Services.
Neither Paul Crowe, president of USR, nor the company’s attorney, Steven J. Davis, responded to a request for comment.
The clock started ticking on July 16, 2018, when State Health Commissioner John W. Hellerstedt, M.D., ordered the cleanup and gave USR one year to finish the work. Several months went by with no action, so state health officials notified the company in December that it was in violation of the decommissioning order and could face a $10,000-per-day fine.
USR remains financially responsible for cleanup because it holds the state license for storing the radioactive waste even though a Nevada real estate group foreclosed on the properties late last year.
After Kensington Title Service foreclosed, it hired Tennessee-based Chase Environmental Group to do the cleanup. State health officials approved Chase’s $1.8 million plan to ship all the waste, including contaminated equipment, for disposal in West Texas.
Cleanup work began early this year at the Shady Oaks site but stopped in May, before it was finished. No work has been done at the site on Jim Christal Road, according to a recent report to the Denton City Council.
Chase found more contaminated material than anticipated, the report said.
USR was the third company in a line of Denton companies that owned the linear accelerator from Texas’ never-finished Superconducting Super Collider project that shut down before it was completed in the mid-1990s. The linear accelerator boosted the ability of Denton’s two manufacturing plants to make a wide variety of medical radioisotopes, which are used to diagnose and treat cancers and other illnesses.
The plants closed in 2009 shortly before they were swept into federal receivership as part of an investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission. The Denton plants were not implicated in the matter, which focused on former financial backers.
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.
In the end, it wasn’t the amount of radioactive waste but a long-running dispute over back taxes that led to the work stoppage, according to city records.
In all, USR owes about $1.2 million in back taxes, interest and penalties to the city, county and school district on the property and equipment, according to county tax records.
After the one-year deadline passes this week, state officials have the authority to step in and finish the cleanup.