Pike official, scientist clash with DOE

By Tom Corrigan - [email protected]

The Pike County General Health District, members of the Scioto Valley Local School District, and other stakeholders met Thursday with the federal Department of Energy (DOE) and the Ohio Department of Health (ODH,) according to Pike County Health Commissioner Matt Brewster.

In what he called the community update, Brewster said the purpose of the meeting was to review and discuss data resulting from DOE testing of the samples taken on Memorial Day at Zahn’s Corner Middle School.

The Scioto Valley Local School District closed the school on May 13 after two reports, one conducted during routine air testing outside the school by DOE and the other from a researcher at Northern Arizona University (NAU,) detected levels of radioactive contamination at the school, which once housed over 300 students.

“As we reported in our (May 25) community update, we were very concerned with the sampling exercise and the lack of communication before, during, and after the event,” Brewster continued. “This lack of communication led to the use of different testing methods and techniques resulting in conflicting results between DOE, ODH and the health district.”

NAU analyzed the health district samples. According to Brewster, the results confirmed the university’s April 27th report which stated there is enriched uranium in dust inside the school and the source is the DOE site, the Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant, or more commonly the A–plant.

NAU did not analyze for any other radiological contaminants.

According to the NAU study released Friday, Piketon resident Elizabeth Lamerson, who likes to refer to herself not as an activist but as a fence line neighbor of the diffusion plant, gathered the original samples testing positive for uranium. NAU Professor Michael Ketterer is listed as a primary author of the new report.

At one point, Ketterer does indeed state “the presence of enriched U (uranium) is confirmed in the dust previously collected by Elizabeth Lamerson at Zahn’s Corner Middle School.”

Like Brewster, Ketterer was highly critical of how DOE collected its Memorial Day samples. Ketterer says the glass fiber media used for collecting those samples “were excessively contaminated with a high baseline level of naturally occurring uranium… This contamination rendered the analysis of most of the swipe samples implausible.”

“Despite the glass fiber media contamination scenario,” Ketterer added, “the analysis of eight (DOE) swipe samples was conducted, including several of the more heavily loaded swipes that had been collected from undisturbed dust collection areas atop structural beams. These analyses revealed that sufficient enriched uranium was present to produce a significantly elevated (uranium) ratio in three of the DOE samples.”

Ketterer goes on to claim the enriched uranium came from the Portsmouth plant, “the only plausible proximal source of enriched uranium.”

In his update, Brewster added ODH still is waiting for the results of testing on eight samples.

“Due to these conflicting results, the importance of the independent, third party assessment cannot be overstated,” Brewster said.

Brewster was referring to a study promised by DOE after public outcry over the discovery of uranium at the school and the subsequent closing of the school, which at present is to remain shuttered during the coming school year with students and staff assigned to other buildings.

Brewster added the purpose of the assessment is to determine the source, levels, extent – and most importantly, the risk to human health – related to any off-site contamination.

“The independent assessment is moving forward with Solutient Technologies as proposed and once complete, the community will have a study and results that they can trust and we all can use to make the best decisions for the health and safety of our community,” Brewster continued. “This assessment will be extremely comprehensive and include the testing of schools, private properties and waters of the state.”

DOE’s public affairs office did not respond to a request for comment for this story. In his written report, Brewster never said specifically what DOE found on Memorial Day. He could not be reached for comment Friday.

Previously, DOE officials said the amounts of radioactive materials found in areas outside the plant are minuscule and pose no threat to human health.

“Routine air samples in the area of DOE’s Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant in Piketon revealed trace amounts of two radiological isotopes that were more than one thousand to ten thousand times below the established threshold of public health concern,” a DOE official said in May. “DOE treats all detections seriously – even those that are at such low levels.

“(DOE) is committed to the safety, health and protection of our workforce, the general public and the environment at all our sites. Accordingly, we are working together with the local officials and stakeholders to engage an independent third party to perform an additional analysis of the air and ground readings to properly assess the situation. We are confident that those findings will allay any cause for further concern.”

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.