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EPA to retest water near nuke dump site in Parks Township

| Friday, Feb. 22, 2013, 1:57 a.m.

The Environmental Protection Agency will expand testing on potential contamination of groundwater near the nuclear waste dump in Parks after finding too many holes in existing studies.

The EPA will hold an open house in Leechburg on Tuesday to discuss the matter. Representatives will discuss current and future groundwater studies one-on-one with residents.

“We took the logical step to move forward,” said Lisa Denmark-Johnson, site assessment manager for EPA Region III. The agency will work with the Army Corps of Engineers and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Diseases Registry, which is part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The Army Corps of Engineers is heading a 10-year, $500 million project to remove radiological and chemical contaminants at the 44-acre waste dump site.

The EPA conducted tests of the groundwater in 2011 to allay residents' concerns about drinking-water quality amid stories of alleged illegal dumping and potential contamination.

Although the agency didn't find any contamination beyond regulatory limits, it did discover additional testing was needed to assure residents that their drinking water was not contaminated by the nuclear waste dump.

About 50 homes in the village of Kiskimere sit near the waste dump.

Although most of the buildings have public water, some residents drink and use well water, according to the EPA.

“This is much long overdue,” said Patty Ameno, the Leechburg environmental activist who worked to bring the EPA in to test outside of the boundaries of the waste dump.

“The first order of business when you look at this site is the impact of the health and safety of the people and the environment,” she said. “Understanding that everything is money driven, I'm hoping there will be adequate funding to ensure that all of the necessary elements are looked at.”

U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, who called for more study of the groundwater, said: “EPA's announcement is a positive step towards getting the residents of Parks Township the information they deserve. It is critical that all of the relevant federal agencies involved, including EPA, CDC and the Army Corps, are involved in a coordinated assessment of any potential risks so that my constituents are fully informed.”

After the EPA found inadequate studies on groundwater for the homes near the waste dump, it approached the Army Corps of Engineers to collaborate with the agency on more testing.

“The Corps will work closely with the EPA in the future with respect to groundwater sampling within its regulatory authority,” said Dan Jones, Corps spokesman.

The sampling conducted by EPA should have no effect on the Corps' schedule to amend its work plan, he added.

The expanded groundwater investigation will be paid for by the EPA from its existing budget from its site-assessment program.

Johnson could not provide details of the expanded testing program as the agency is still working on the study plans, she said.

But she expects the agency to begin the expanded testing project in several months.

Mary Ann Thomas is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at mthomas@tribweb.com.

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