While he was generally very complementary of the federal Department of Energy’s decision to move forward with a third party study of contamination possibly coming from the Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant in Piketon, The Ohio State University Professor of environmental health sciences Darryl B. Hood said what local officials should be pushing for is a human health risk assessment, one specifically looking at the effects of any contamination on the local population.
“Nothing short of that will suffice,” Hood said in comments to the Daily Times. “The potential impact to human health is what we need to be concerned with here.”
Hood noted he has been following the developments in Piketon closely, including in the Daily Times. Hood went on to say a thorough medical study might involve six or seven steps as well as what he called several cohorts of people: for example, persons who have lived here all their lives as opposed to those who lived here for a while and moved away.
“A hazard assessment must come first,” Hood continued. Such an assessment could help determine if a full-blown public health study is indicated. But Hood added based on the fact contamination already has been found around the plant, any initial assessment providing the justification for a health study seems likely.
Such a hazard assessment may or may not be what DOE has in mind. Pike County Health Commissioner Matt Brewster said the board of the Pike County General Health District is slated to meet sometime today. On Wednesday, Brewster said the group should have some more information regarding how the study will proceed from DOE and Assistant Secretary of Energy Anne White. Brewster said local officials had been, for what he considers obvious reasons, trying to keep DOE as uninvolved as possible in selecting whoever completes the coming study.
According to Brewster, White claimed limiting DOE’s involvement complicated government funding mechanisms. Brewster added no price tag has yet been attached to the study.
DOE agreed to investigate contaminants possibly ranging far away from the site of the Portsmouth plant earlier this week after the Scioto Valley Local School District closed Zahn’s Corner Middle School in Piketon. The school would have closed for summer vacation May 21.
The closure came after the contents of a 2017 Piketon Annual Site Environmental Report (ASER,) which came out in January of this year, were made public. That report revealed what DOE termed “trace” amounts of a substance known as neptunium 237 was found in air monitoring stations set up near the school.
School officials also were reacting to a study completed by Northern Arizona University which allegedly found enriched uranium residue inside the school. That study was completed pro bono at the request of a group of local activists led by self-proclaimed “concerned fence line neighbor” Elizabeth Lamerson.
Earlier this week and again on Thursday, Brewster further talked about the NAU study finding a substance known as americium, a radioactive isotope, in an air monitoring station on Camp Creek Road in Lucasville. Brewster did not know the exact location of the monitoring station, but Camp Creek Road sits about 20 miles north of Portsmouth. OSU’s Hood talked about americium being linked to bone cancer and gastrointestinal problems.
Hood stated he has spent a good part of his 30-year career concerned with smaller communities that have been hit with possible contamination such as that which may or may not be coming from Piketon’s former uranium enrichment plant. He said he was very sympathetic regarding helping people who might otherwise be unable to help themselves.
Touching on other issues at the plant site, Hood was highly critical of DOE’s plans to construct a permanent waste disposal facility at the site. Portsmouth’s on-site waste disposal cell is scheduled to be operational in 2020. The $900 million cell will take two million cubic yards of waste of building demolition materials from the Portsmouth plant site. DOE officials have argued it is the most effective and practical means to dispose of plant construction debris as well as maximize the site’s redevelopment potential. Highly vocal critics refer to the facility as a “radioactive waste dump,” a description with which Hood wholeheartedly agreed.
“You would be hard-pressed to convince any professional individual who’s been trained in toxicity and so on that it would be safe to put such a facility in so close a juxtaposition to a community let alone a school,” Hood said.
Brewster has noted in addition to the Zahn’s Corner school, the plant has approximately two or three additional schools within a five-mile radius of its borders.
“The disposal cell at our facility would be just over 1,000 feet from local residents,” Village of Piketon Councilman Dennis Foreman said recently. “There are many other reasons this is a ridiculous idea.”
A member of the site-specific advisory board (SSAB) which in theory provides local advice and consultation on activities at the Piketon plant, Foreman was speaking to a group which oversees the activities of various SSAB’s at sites around the country.
In the meantime, former plant worker and local activist Vina Colley said she has been talking about contamination extending beyond the plant’s borders for quite some time, as early as 2005.
“They never listened to our warnings. So how long have these children been exposed?” Colley said in an email to the Daily Times and referring to the situation at Piketon in the middle school.
Village of Piketon Mayor Billy Spencer did not respond to a request for comment for this story.
Reach Tom Corrigan at (740) 370- 0715. © 2019 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved.