A long-awaited environmental study of alleged contamination possibly spreading from the defunct Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant still is in the works according to a recent update provided by Pike County Health Commissioner Matt Brewster.
However, when that study may take place still is unclear.
Residents and plant critics began calling for a third-party independent study of alleged contamination coming from the former uranium enrichment plant in Piketon after the supposed discovery of radioactive contamination inside Zahn’s Corner Middle School, which has been closed indefinitely and, according to one report, the property around it fenced off.
“The importance and need for the independent, third party assessment cannot be overstated,” Brewster said. “Again, the purpose of the assessment is to determine the source, levels, extent — and most importantly, the risk to human health related to the off-site contamination.”
Brewster added the independent assessment is moving forward with Solutient Technologies as previously announced.
“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. The funding is in place and will go from (the federal Department of Energy) to Ohio University in the form of a grant — OU will not have any involvement other than being the vehicle for the funding.
“Solutient Technologies, working in collaboration with the Pike County General Health District (PCGHD), Scioto Valley Local Schools and local stakeholders, is responsible for the development of the scope of work, Data Quality Objectives, Sampling and Analysis Plan, and the actual field sampling related to the assessment,” Brewster continued. “After several revisions and weeks of back and forth, Solutient Technologies submitted their scope of work for final approval to OU and DOE on Sept. 27.”
Brewster added the next step in the process is the further development of the so-called Data Quality Objectives as well as the Sampling Analysis Plan.
“This assessment will be extremely comprehensive and include the testing of schools (Pike CTC, Eastern Local, Pike County Board of DD Early Childhood Center, Miracle City Academy, Scioto Valley Local), public properties, private properties, and waters of the state (Little Beaver Creek, Big Beaver Creek, Scioto River, unnamed tributaries, etc.) within an initial six miles radius from the center of the plant — with the option to increase that radius if needed. All the specifics of the testing will be outlined in the SAP.”
While observers might not be happy with this aspect of the ongoing plans, Brewster importantly noted there is no time frame yet for when the actual testing will happen.
“This cannot be about how quickly things happen, but the importance of doing it efficiently and effectively versus how fast, is of the utmost importance. The start date for sampling depends on how long it takes to develop the SAP and to get that approved by DOE.”
Brewster said samples ultimately will be sent to the Oak Ridge Radiological and Environmental Analytical Laboratory for analysis. Final analysis will be sent to the National Academy of Sciences for interpretation, he added.
“NAS will be performing the health risk assessment and compile a final report that explains what these levels mean to the health of our community and local environment. They will also be reviewing the current radiation monitoring system around the PORTS facility and making recommendations for improvement. The NAS will have an advisory board meeting in Washington DC in November concerning the independent study.”
On another front, Brewster said the federal Centers for Disease Control was not interested in performing any cancer health assessment until the independent assessment is complete. When that assessment is complete, CDC then will make a decision as to whether they will get involved.
“The health district is handling the initial part of the study with the help of our local epidemiologist. We have been analyzing zip code data and submitted a request through the Ohio Department of Health to have access to identifiable data found in the Ohio Cancer Incidence Surveillance System. This request has been approved and we are currently analyzing the more comprehensive data and mapping those points to look for trends. We are also cross referencing that data with the nearly 600 responses received through our cancer cluster survey.”
According to Brewster, after what he called a quick review of the ZIP Code data, from 2012 to 2016 were the Piketon ZIP Code (45661) had 10 new cases of multiple myeloma. Based on information from the Cancer Network and the National Institutes of Health, persons living in the 45661 ZIP Code are between six and 13 times more likely to develop multiple myeloma and other areas in the country.
“This is not a scientific analysis and the health district won’t speculate at the cause, this is simply using math and looking at the rates we have compared to what they say we should have in our area,” said Brewster.
“The stance of the health district, Scioto Valley Local Schools, and our community is that we will not accept any increased risk for our kids, teachers, or community just because we have a DOE facility in our community. Any level of contamination found above background (regardless of how small) causes an increased risk,” Brewster said in conclusion.
The Daily Times reached out to DOE and Flour-BWXT, the private contractor handling the demolition and decontamination of the diffusion plant, but received no response on this or a number of other issues that have been raised regarding the plant recently. We will continue to follow this story.
Reach Tom Corrigan at (740) 370-0715. © 2019 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved.