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Study: Extensive groundwater contamination found at Ohio plant

The Associated Press
2/26/02 4:26 PM

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Cancer-causing substances have contaminated groundwater around a closed uranium enrichment plant in southern Ohio, according to a study released Tuesday by area residents and environmentalists.

Using measurements obtained from the U.S. Department of Energy, its contractors and the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, the report questioned whether current water treatment operations at the Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant in Piketon, Ohio, are working.

"We found that the DOE was not treating all the materials that were in the water and removing all the contaminants," said Marvin Resnikoff, a scientist specializing in radioactive waste for the New York-based Radioactive Waste Management Associates, which wrote the report.

Department of Energy workers at the site pump infected groundwater to five facilities, where it is treated and released into the Scioto River. According to the study, the water is not being treated for cancer-causing substances called radionuclides. About 24.6 million gallons of water went through this process in 1999, the study said.

Concentrations of certain radionuclides -- trichloroethene and technetium -- were found to be thousands of times higher than Ohio EPA standards for safe drinking water, the report said.

"People still get baptized here. They swim in the creek and they catch fish out of the creek," said Vina Colley, a former uranium enrichment worker who lives 15 miles south of the plant in McDermott. "We want them to do more extensive testing and a better job of the clean up."

A spokesman for the Ohio EPA, Jim Leach, called the group's claim speculation. He said the state agency had not seen the report and could not comment specifically on its findings.

A spokeswoman for DOE said the agency is working with state and federal environmental regulators to clean the site.

"We haven't seen the report, but we are well aware of the cleanup priorities at Portsmouth," Dolline Hatchett said. "It is our general understanding that the report focuses on issues that the department has been working on."

The Portsmouth/Piketon Residents for Environmental Safety and Security sponsored the study along with the Uranium Enrichment Project, a group that monitors uranium enrichment activities in conjunction with San Francisco-based Earth Island Institute.

The nonprofit groups paid about $25,000 for the study, which they say provides the first nongovernment-sponsored analysis of the data. The groups are advocating that a trust fund be set up to provide continued treatment at the site.

During the Cold War, the plant produced weapons-grade enriched uranium for national defense projects. At one point, highly radioactive plutonium and neptunium contaminated the plant.

USEC Inc. ceased uranium enrichment operations at the Piketon plant last year and scaled back to just one enrichment facility in Paducah, Ky.

The study also said the groundwater contamination was found the portion of the site that may soon be transferred to the Southern Ohio Diversification Initiative. The nonprofit group wants to convert 340 acres of the 3,700-acre grounds for industrial use.

Soil samples released by the Ohio EPA last month showed low levels of plutonium, neptunium and mercury on the same property. The group has said it wants an independent analysis of the land to determine whether it is more of a liability than it is worth.


On the Net:

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