- Associated Press - Saturday, March 15, 2014

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - North Dakota officials are trying to tap into a state fund generated by oil and gas tax revenues to pay for the cleanup of what may be the state’s biggest incident of illegal dumping of radioactive filter socks, a part used in the oil production process.

The fund is meant for plugging and reclaiming abandoned oil wells, pipelines or oil brine spills. But the North Dakota Department of Health may use that money for the cleanup because it doesn’t have a fund for that specific use, the Bismarck Tribune reported Friday (http://bit.ly/1fJoWF8 ).

Hundreds of the tubular filters were discovered earlier this month in an abandoned building in Noonan, a town of about 200 people in northwestern North Dakota.

It’s unclear who dumped the waste in the building.

Divide County Chief Sheriff’s Deputy Zach Schroeder said at the time the filter socks were found that the building’s owner was charged with felony larceny in an unrelated incident and has yet to be located.

“He is a fugitive,” he said.

Schroeder said Saturday that the owner still had not been located and that the investigation into which oil or service company actually generated the waste is continuing, according to the newspaper.

State Waste Management Director Scott Radig said that in the absence of an owner his department is making arrangements with the Industrial Commission to tap the state fund.

Department of Mineral Resources spokeswoman Alison Ritter said it’s possible the fund could be used for the cleanup.

Filter socks can become contaminated with naturally occurring radiation and are banned for disposal in North Dakota. Oil companies are supposed to haul them to approved waste facilities in other states such as Montana, Colorado and Idaho, which allow a higher level of radioactivity in their landfills.

The filter socks have been tested and show low levels of radioactivity, Radig said earlier this month.

“The public is not at risk as long as people don’t break into the building and start handling them,” he said.

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Information from: Bismarck Tribune, http://www.bismarcktribune.com