Casey calls for new Parks nuke dump study
Sen. Robert Casey is asking for a new federal study on the risk and potential for exposure to radioactive and chemical waste to residents and businesses near the nuclear waste dump in Parks.
Known formally as the Shallow Land Disposal Area, the dump received radioactive and chemical waste from the former Nuclear Materials and Equipment Corp. (NUMEC) in Apollo and Parks. It was later owned and operated by BWX Technologies (also known as Babcock & Wilcox) and its predecessor, Atlantic Richfield Co.
The Parks site, which sits next to the village of Kiskimere, an industrial park, and the Kiski River, which is a major tributary of the Allegheny River, had been active from 1960 into the early '70s.
Currently, the Army Corps of Engineers is trying to excavate radiological and chemical contaminants at the 44-acre site and ship the contamination off-site to another state.
Casey has been calling for several government investigations and cooperation among a number of federal agencies on the cleanup, which was halted in 2011 because a contractor allegedly mishandled some nuclear waste.
The project stalled because greater than expected amounts of “complex” nuclear materials were found in the waste trenches and cleanup costs soared.
Now, after a 2012 study on the well water and ground water near the dump by the Environmental Protection Agency, Casey is calling for a new study to address the community's concerns of exposure to radiation and contaminants found on the SLDA site.
“Principally, we're calling for this because we believe that a larger study needs to take place for the simple reason that there are gaps in the information,” Casey told the Valley News Dispatch in a phone interview Tuesday.
He sent a letter requesting the study on Tuesday to Lisa Jackson, administrator of the EPA; Jo-Ellen Darcy, assistant secretary of the Army; and Christopher Portier, director of the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.
Although the 2012 EPA study didn‘t find chemical or radiological contamination above federal standards in ground and surface water near the dump, the agency says it needs more information to ensure that residents and nearby workers aren't getting contaminated.
The agency identified “data gaps,” such as lacking information on wells at the SLDA and the need to test in other areas.
Environmental activist Patty Ameno of Leechburg said that she thinks there has been mischaracterization of information in some of the government reports over the years.
For example, a number of federal studies state that since there's public water service in Kiskimere, the village of about 50 homes next to the dump, residents there don't drink well water, according to Ameno.
“The EPA report made it clear that people are using their well water for drinking and irrigating their gardens,” she said. “And this is one piece of information that can affect public safety.
“I think it's striking that the EPA cannot determine at this juncture if people are being exposed, and they need more testing to be able to say that,” Ameno said. “And I am curious to why any public health impact study has not been done up until now, even though there's been a push from the public for it over the decades.”
Casey said: “It is hard to pinpoint why there are these (data) gaps.
“Sometimes, it can be lack of coordination, or something as simple as when you did a particular study that you didn't get the all the information,” he said.
“I think the most important point is that we're asking three agencies to work together to address those questions,” Casey said. “And if they do this, there will be another measure of peace of mind for the residents.”
Dan Jones, spokesman for the Army Corps of Engineers in Pittsburgh, said that they have reviewed the EPA report with the agency.
“We are aware of the request from Senator Casey and we will cooperate with any direction given to us by our senior leadership,” he said.
“No matter what happens,” Jones said, “we're going to continue to work with the EPA and (the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry) to ensure that we are all on the same page, sharing information, getting as much information as we can and using that information to safeguard the community.”
The corps, which is looking for a new contractor for the cleanup, is committed to finishing the job.
But it's still reviewing the project because the cleanup costs have substantially exceeded its original cost estimate from $45 million in 2007 to up to $500 million now.
Mary Ann Thomas is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-226-4691 or firstname.lastname@example.org.