Water tests clear

Mary Ann Thomas
| Saturday, Nov. 16, 2013, 1:46 a.m.

Two federal agencies didn't find nuclear or chemical contamination above federal drinking water standards during recent groundwater tests at the 53-year-old nuclear waste dump along Route 66 in Parks Township.

Area residents and some lawmakers have long been concerned that radioactive and chemical contaminants could be migrating from the 44-acre dump, now the subject of a $250 million to $500 million cleanup by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The waste dump along Route 66, formally known as the Shallow Land Disposal Area, received radioactive and chemical waste from about 1960 to the early 1970s from the former Nuclear Materials and Equipment Corp. (NUMEC) in Apollo and Parks, and its successor, the Atlantic Richfield Co.

BWX Technologies, known as Babcock & Wilcox, owns the site.

Calls to the company for comment were not returned.

The potential for off-site contamination has been a persistent problem, because the dump sits next to an industrial park, the Kiski River, and the village of Kiskimere.

Although many of the 50-or-so homes in Kiskimere are connected to a public water system, there are still some residents who use well water for drinking and to water vegetable gardens, according to an earlier EPA report.

Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pennsylvania, along with the EPA and Leechburg environmental activist Patty Ameno, called for the recent round of groundwater tests to ensure resident safety.

“The contamination does not seem to be leaving the site,” said Corps Project Manager, Mike Helbling.

Rich Rupert, the on-scene coordinator for the Parks sites for the EPA, said: “As far as chemicals that the EPA tested for — industrial solvents like TCE and benzene — the EPA found no traces of them.”

However, industrial solvents have been in the ground at the site, but were not detected in the recent round of groundwater tests, he added.

“That doesn't mean that there isn't contamination on the site,” Rupert said, “but the contamination does not appear to move through the water.”

He attributed the lack of migration to a layer of clay throughout the site.

“The concentrations of the radionuclides are similar to those found by corps in groundwater sampling in the past at site,” Helbling said. “Those results are saying that the radionuclides are not migrating.”

History of contamination

Ameno wants to see the actual study before she comments on the results.

“The fact remains that there's documented evidence by agencies and by the Atlantic Richfield Corp. that is contrary to this report — that there has been migration of both radiological and chemical contaminants from the trenches,” she said.

According to a state Department of Environmental Protection April 10, 1995 letter, the DEP took issue with ARCO's site report: “We disagree with your statement that the data establish(es) that there has been no off-site migration of trench constituents, since the trenches do leak.”

An ARCO site characterization in the 1990s documented low levels of radioactive contamination in Dry Run on site and groundwater seeps in the upper trench area.

Urte Barker, an engineer with ARCO in a Dec. 21, 1993, article in the Valley News Dispatch, said that several burial trenches were leaking chemical and radioactive contaminants and one trench was leaking uranium waste into a coal mine.

Abandoned coal mines underlie the site.

Barker characterized those several burial trenches as leaking “minimally” and leaking sideways more than deeper into the earth.

Ameno wants to know more about the monitoring wells used by the government agencies for the recent round of surveys.

“The question is: Are these monitoring wells showing a true value of the total picture?”

There could be an integrity issue, according to Ameno. “Who drilled those wells and who has historically been in charge of monitoring them? If it's B&W — it's the proverbial fox in the hen house.”

The Corps will release the groundwater study late this year and will hold a public meeting on the study sometime in December or January, according to Helbling.

The Corps will hold a second meeting on an updated cleanup plan.

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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