EPA to test Kiski River sediment for nuclear, chemical contaminants
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will conduct extensive tests for nuclear and chemical contamination in the sediment of the Kiski River.
The surveys, which are scheduled for Monday through Wednesday, result from the EPA's continuing testing of areas near the Babcock & Wilcox nuclear waste dump in Parks Township.
Neighbors have long worried about contamination of the river across Route 66 from the dump and a former plutonium-processing plant. When two nuclear fuel plants discharged radioactive and chemical waste into the river starting in the late 1950s, residents joked that the Kiski had a “special glow.”
“If they do find an issue in the sediment, that could impact the recreation on the river if people are afraid of the river,” said Bob Kossak, manager of the Kiski Valley Water Pollution Control Authority and president of the Kiskiminetas River Watershed Association.
“If they find no issue, it will resolve a lot of concern that people have had because the sediment was not tested,” he said. “It will help people move on.”
No official concerns so far
Officials from the EPA and the state Department of Environment Protection say there are no nuclear or contamination issues that concern them so far.
“We've been closely monitoring the river,” said John Poister, DEP spokesman in Pittsburgh. “We have seen nothing that would indicate that there is a problem posed.”
Water quality tests haven't satisfied Leechburg environmental activist Patty Ameno, who brought in attorneys to file two federal lawsuits alleging nuclear contamination against former plant owners Babcock & Wilcox and the Atlantic Richfield Co.
For many years, she has pestered lawmakers and government agencies to test the sediment of the Kiski River.
Recently, she asked the EPA to test the water in wells and other areas outside of the Babcock & Wilcox nuclear waste dump as the Army Corps of Engineers cleans it.
“This is not a scare,” Ameno said. “I want to get this resolved because years from now, people could get exposed.”
The half life of U-235, a radioactive metal used in nuclear fuel and weapons, is 700 million years.
Monitors have found it in the Kiski River. However, the DEP determined that the U-235 was from acid mine drainage, according to Poister.
Poister said the DEP has tested the Kiski for decades and results show only a slight increase of U-235.
Rich Rupert, on-scene coordinator with EPA's mid-Atlantic region, said he is not aware of any radioactive contamination that is above federal standards in the river water.
But the river sediment could prove to be a different story.
Rupert said he would be surprised if he didn't find any contamination.
“We expect to find something because of naturally occurring uranium and residuals from a number of industries that discharged into the river over the years,” he said. “It might be impossible to tell the difference between what came from where.”
EPA will take about 30 sediment samples, upstream, downstream and near the former plutonium plant.
History of contamination
The Kiski River was a sewer for the steel, mining and nuclear industries for more than a century.
Although the water quality improved greatly with ever-increasing species of fish frequenting the water, there could still be areas of the river bottom or banks where contaminants are trapped and concentrated.
“When industry started in the valley in the 1800s, everything was discharged to the river prior to Kiski Valley Water Pollution Control Authority going online in 1975,” Kossak said. “It will be very interesting to see these test results.”
The EPA expects test results in about three months, according to Rupert.
Health physicists from the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry and the EPA will review the findings before releasing them to the public.
Mary Ann Thomas is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-226-4691 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- 2 stores robbed in Alle-Kiski Valley
- Burrell makes effort to improve performance scores
- Officials unite to combat violence in New Kensington
- 2 appointees fill out Cheswick Council
- Springdale to stick with chief
- 7 in custody after New Kensington drug raid
- Upper Burrell man charged with sexually assaulting boy
- Leechburg councilwoman resigns; applicants sought
- Parents of duct-taped Highlands student don’t want charges
- Stretch of Freeport Road rezoned
- Sears at Pittsburgh Mills mall in Frazer closing in January