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More water tests scheduled at nuke waste dump

| Wednesday, May 22, 2013, 12:51 a.m.
Eric Felack | Valley News Dispatch
Suddha Graves, left, and Matthew Gadd, employees for TechLaw, an environmental contractor for the EPA, import data on laptops in preparation for water testing at the SLDA site in Parks Township on Tuesday, May 21, 2013.

The Army Corps of Engineers is testing the groundwater at the nuclear waste dump in Parks to be “prudent” and to respond to a sister agency's call for more testing.

“We don't have to, but we think it's a good idea,” said Mike Helbling, project manager for the Army Corps of Engineers, Pittsburgh District.

“Both the Corps and the EPA think it is a prudent approach.”

So far, the Corps and the federal Environmental Protection Agency have not found any nuclear or chemical contamination migrating from the 44-acre dump, known as the Shallow Land Disposal Area, along Route 66.

However, residents have been concerned about the possibility.

The Corps has documented the presence of chemical contaminants in the groundwater, including TCE, but not outside of its boundaries.

The EPA, backed by Sen. Bob Casey, called for more testing of groundwater outside of the dump to allay residents' concerns.

The Army Corps is more than a decade into the planning of the removal of nuclear waste at a dump with a series of waste pits that was owned by the former Nuclear Materials and Equipment Corp. and later Babcock & Wilcox (BWX Technologies).

The Corps halted the cleanup, estimated to cost between $250 million and $500 million, shortly after it began in 2011 because a contractor allegedly mishandled some nuclear waste and was unearthing unexpectedly large amounts of nuclear material.

A new contractor is expected in 2015 to re-start the cleanup that could last for a decade, according to Helbling.

Some nearby residents in Kiskimere, a small village that abuts the site, and Leechburg environmental activist Patty Ameno have been concerned about radioactive and chemical contaminants migrating from the dump to nearby homes and the Kiski River.

“This new round of testing is important given the fact that new contractors and work will be on this site and there should be rigorous, continual testing,” Ameno said. “The agencies doing the testing need access to all areas of the site and off-site,” she said.

“With the test of the groundwater so far, we have not found anything going off site to raise concern,” said Lisa Denmark-Johnson, site assessment manager for EPA Region III. “We are gathering more test results to make sure that remains true.”

After testing wells on private property and other water sources close to the nuclear dump, the EPA did not find any contamination issues last year but called for more testing to protect residents.

The site owner, Babcock & Wilcox, and the Army Corps of Engineers have been testing the groundwater for years.

The Corps last tested the ground water in 2012, according to Helbling. But because cleanup operations ceased and won't resume for a few years, the Corps wanted to keep testing the groundwater, he said.

“The EPA and Corps are in agreement on the sufficiency of the groundwater well network on-site,” Helbling said. “However, the EPA would like to see additional groundwater wells located outside of the fence line.”

Rich Rupert, EPA's on-scene coordinator, is working with the Corps this week. The EPA will split samples with the Corps, with each agency using different independent laboratories.

EPA is planning in June to install monitoring wells at four off-site locations, according to Rupert.

Mary Ann Thomas is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-226-4691 or mthomas@tribweb.com.

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