US Secretary of Energy plegdes support for study of contamination leaking from Piketon A-plant

By Tom Corrigan - [email protected]

While the announcement did not lead to any evident dancing in the streets in the Village of Piketon or Pike County, the site of the controversial Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant, in a letter to Ohio Governor Mike DeWine, federal Secretary of Energy Rick Perry promised Washington’s help in solving or at least better delineating any contamination escaping into Pike County from what is commonly known as the A-plant.

“As a father, grandfather and former governor, I understand the urgent need to address the concerns of your citizens,” Perry wrote in his letter dated May 20. “I pledge to you that the Department of Energy will continue to work closely with the state of Ohio and Piketon officials to safeguard the health and safety of the community.”

Perry stated, “in the interest of further transparency,” he has directed DOE to release the complete set of raw air monitoring data for all 16 Portsmouth sampling locations, both those on and off site of the Piketon plant. Perry indicated that information already has been provided to authorities in Pike County, the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency and the Ohio Department of Health.

Those figures were still not readily available Tuesday afternoon.

“In addition, I have also directed (DOE’s) Environmental Management leadership to immediately review its existing monitoring and communication processes,” Perry continued.

It was the detection of what DOE called trace amounts of a substance known as neptunium-237 at an air monitoring station located near Zahn’s Corner Middle School in Pike County, as was later reported in the Portsmouth Daily Times, which partly prompted the closing of that school about one week earlier than scheduled and set off a firestorm of controversy aimed at DOE and its decontamination and deconstruction activities at the closed but mammoth-sized A-plant.

DOE critics also pointed to a third-party study done by an Arizona university purportedly showing uranium dust inside the school building itself. After that information was made public, DOE agreed to a third-party study to determine the extent and nature of any contamination reaching beyond the borders of the plant itself. That study also showed at least trace amounts of contaminants reaching an air monitoring station as far south as Lucasville in Scioto County.

At least publicly, Perry’s letter talked for the first time about a decision by Ohio University in Athens to use existing grant money to fund testing of the Piketon communities four schools “and other areas of interest.”

“My Environmental Management officials eagerly await the community’s selection so that the review can be completed as quickly as possible,” Perry wrote, referencing DOE’s decision to allow local Pike County officials to name the company to perform any environmental testing in in hopes of ensuring results are as neutral as possible. That may actually prove to be more easily said than done.

Village of Piketon Councilman Dennis Foreman on Wednesday told the Daily Times Pike County officials had contacted four different companies to take on the environmental testing work; all four passed, according to Foreman.

“People are nervous,” Foreman said, adding contractors seem to simply be afraid of possibly crossing DOE.

In a prepared statement released Tuesday, Pike County Health Commissioner Matt Brewster did not mention any companies turning away county work.

“The health district work group is reviewing qualifications of potential independent third-party contractors to perform the sampling,” Brewster said in his release. “We are aware of the time sensitive nature of this project and are taking the necessary steps to ensure that the contractor selected has the necessary experience and will be unbiased.”

Brewster continued: “We are also currently working on the Data Quality Objectives Process for this study. The DQO Process is a strategic planning approach based on the scientific method that is used to prepare for a data collection activity. The DQO Process along with the Sampling and Analysis Plan provide a systematic procedure for determining when and where to collect samples, how many samples to collect, etc.”

Brewster added Pike County officials will meet today with leaders of Scioto Valley Local Schools, the Village of Piketon and Scioto Township to further discuss the coming studies.

Perry noted DeWine wrote him with concerns about the situation in Pike County May 16. In a return letter to Perry dated May 20, DeWine thanked the secretary for his quick response “and his pledge for the third-party study to be completed as quickly as possible.” DeWine further offered the support of the OEPA and the Ohio Department of Health.

“I am asking that Pike County officials engage their chosen independent entity by the end of May,” DeWine concluded.

DOE is in the midst of hosting four public forums, one of which was held last week at Shawnee State University, while another was Tuesday in Pike County. Foreman said a number of protesters took up position outside the Waverly YMCA, the location of that forum. The last forum is 2-7 p.m. today at the Christopher Conference Center, North Plaza Blvd., Chillicothe.

By Tom Corrigan

[email protected]

Reach Tom Corrigan at (740) 370- 0715. © 2019 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved.

Reach Tom Corrigan at (740) 370- 0715. © 2019 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved.