Their stories were extremely varied. But many had one unfortunate commonality: cancer.
Larry and Janie Williams describe themselves as being fence line neighbors of the Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant since 1972. When she began to fall ill somewhat over four years ago, Larry said his wife’s doctor asked how she had come to be exposed to radiation. Janie never worked at the Portsmouth plant but spoke of daily hearing the ongoing construction of the decommissioned plant’s controversial on-site waste disposal facility. Janie said she developed a type of cancer that attacked her blood. Treatment included extremely expensive stem cell transplants. The transplants did buy her some time, though she added doctors gave her three to five years of life.
“I’m in year four,” said Janie, who clearly is accepting of her situation and spoke of her story unabashedly. She is 63.
Larry and Janie Williams were only two of several hundred people who waited hours Tuesday afternoon into early Tuesday evening to gain information on a class-action lawsuit filed in May against numerous companies connected with the former operation and current decommissioning and demolition activities at the long defunct uranium enrichment plant. Attorneys and their representatives gathered names to add to the suit, then the lawyers and other experts spoke privately to large groups of visitors, about 50 or 60 at a time. Those sessions were closed to the media.
Filed in federal court in Cincinnati, the suit begins by alleging the populace around the 3,777-acre plant “did not know that the operations at the Portsmouth site expelled air laden with radioactive materials and other metals.”
Another claim states “winds have carried the radioactive materials and other metals throughout the area in such concentrations that radioactive materials and metals can be found deposited in soils and buildings in and around Piketon.” The primary plaintiffs are identified as Jason and Ursula McGlone and their juvenile children, who live about two miles from the plant, according to the lawsuit.
Persons affected by plant operations, or later by activities aimed at demolishing the plant, could number into the thousands. In addition, the filing alleges the amount in controversy exceeds $5 million. At the same time, the filing states the suit is an action for property damage claims and not for personal injury. At least, that was the case as of May.
The Cooper Law Firm of New Orleans is the lead firm in the case. In May, attorneys indicated they collected some 36 environmental samples in a seven-mile radius around the plant. As the crow flies, a seven-mile radius includes northern Scioto County. Well-known local activist Vina Colley said she wants the radius extended to 10 miles.
Stewart H. Smith is the lead attorney for the class action. On Tuesday, he said the closed-door sessions were to discuss what investigators for the attorneys have found so far through their sampling efforts and other measures.
“There have been releases of dangerous radioactive materials. Further, the public statements from the Department of Energy (DOE) simply are not true,” Smith said referring to DOE pronouncements the amounts of radioactive materials found outside the grounds of the diffusion plant are minuscule and harmless.
“These are the most dangerous materials known to man,” Smith added.
A second, unconnected class-action suit was filed against many of the same defendants last month. Colley stated she fully expects a federal judge will join those two suits into one at some point.
The second suit, reads in part: “Residents who live in the vicinity of the A- plant have also experienced more than their share of cancer and other diseases, and animals and plants nearby were found to contain harmful contaminants.”
While they could not be reached for comment, the local resident group behind the second suit has said they found 247 cancer cases in a six-mile radius around the plant. They allegedly tested deer killed by cars and discovered uranium in the livers of the deer. Further, traces of uranium were allegedly found in milk and eggs samples from area farms and from vegetables in the gardens of residences in the vicinity of the plant
For their part, the Williams said they are not interested in gaining financial compensation at this point. Larry Williams said he is simply extremely curious as to what went on and what might be going on in the future.
Pike County Health Commissioner Matt Brewster was in attendance Tuesday and said there is no doubt the now infamous finding at the closed Zahn’s Corner Middle School set off the current firestorm of criticism against DOE and operations at the plant. He freely credited the Daily Times with the first reporting regarding the 2017 DOE Annual Site Environmental Report (ASER) which as most know showed a radioactive substance known as neptunium 237 reached an air monitor set up next to the school. A private study done by an Arizona University allegedly showed radioactive materials inside the school itself. DOE released the 2017 ASER in January of this year, drawing heavy criticism for waiting so long to let the public in on the information.
Jennifer Beech said she did her student teaching at Zahn’s in 2012 while attending Ohio University. She said she was pregnant with twins at the time, one of whom she now refers to as her $1 million baby. She said that is approximately how much has been spent to save the child from the cancers he developed. Beech added fortunately for her family she has good insurance and her son, now six is doing well. However, much like Janie William’s doctor, the doctors for Beech’s son asked about radiation and said the type of cancer the young boy suffers from definitely have links to radiation exposure.
Of the people spoken to Tuesday, only Carlos Williams, who said he has lived about five miles from the Piketon plant for some 30 years did not report any instances of cancer in himself or his family. Still, Williams said he is very much concerned for his community, adding “DOE is simply not to be trusted. Period.”
Once news of the school contamination broke, a DOE secretary who since left the government promised to fund an extensive study of contamination around the plant. On Tuesday, Brewster said a preliminary meeting with the DOE supervisor of both the Portsmouth and the Paducah plants seemed intended to confirm DOE plans to honor its promise. While he called the meeting preliminary, Brewster stated he was at least somewhat reassured the promised study will happen. He said local officials continue to hammer out funding issues with their federal counterparts as well as discuss the parameters of any proposed study. Brewster also promised results of a DOE sampling done at the middle school in early summer should be made public soon.
Reach Tom Corrigan at (740) 370- 0715. © 2019 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved.Reach