More tests planned near former Parks nuclear dump

Mary Ann Thomas
| Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2013, 1:46 a.m.

Federal officials say they so far have found no significant health threats to Parks Township residents from a former nuclear waste dump there.

But expanded testing of groundwater is planned in and around the Shallow Land Disposal Area along Route 66 near Kiskimere Road to get a better picture of what, if anything, is escaping the site.

The EPA conducted groundwater tests in residents' wells and other locations in 2011 to address water quality concerns near the 44-acre waste dump owned by BWX Technologies (also known as Babcock & Wilcox).

The agency didn't find any radiological or chemical contamination above federal limits; however, the EPA discovered data gaps and urged more testing. Sen. Bob Casey also pressed for additional studies.

Now, the EPA is collaborating on studies with the Army Corps of Engineers, which is heading a 10-year, $500 million project to dig up and remove radiological contamination at the waste dump site.

Federal officials met with residents for an open house Tuesday in the VFW in Leechburg to answer questions about testing for potential water contamination near the nuclear waste dump along Route 66 in Parks Township.

Between 20 to 40 residents met one-on-one with representatives from the Environmental Protection Agency, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry and the Army Corps of Engineers.

Residents wanted explanations from government officials about the results from their first round of testing and wanted to know if they were receiving any contamination, according to Karl V. Markiewicz, a senior toxicologist with the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR).

The agency is working with the EPA to interpret the findings and health implications.

“People wanted to know what certain chemicals were and if the site is impacting their health,” he said.

At this point, ATSDR has found nothing of significance impacting residents' health outside the waste dump.

There were no specific requests from residents for the EPA to test their property, according to Lisa Denmark-Johnson, site assessment manager for EPA Region III. But some did offer the agency access to their property if it was needed, she added.

Earlier in the day, the EPA met with the corps to design the additional water studies, according to Richard Rupert, the on-scene coordinator for the Parks sites for the EPA.

“We're working closely with the corps and will use their existing wells,” he said.

The agency might install more, but Rupert was not sure as the EPA and the corps are still in the planning process for the study.

Patty Ameno, Leechburg environmental activist, said, “The EPA and ATSDR are here to not just explain what they've done but what they're going to do in the future with this extended study.”

The EPA will conduct the additional water studies this spring.

Representatives for Casey, Sen. Pat Toomey and state Sen. Jim Ferlo attended the meeting along with a number of local officials.

Mary Ann Thomas is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

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