Is there radioactive neptunium in your drinking water? Is it present at a level which should ignite concern? Is any level of radioactive material in your drinking water acceptable?
The answers very well could depend upon with whom you speak.
According to Northern Arizona University professor emeritus of chemistry and biochemistry Michael Ketterer, there is absolutely no doubt radioactive neptunium, the source of which he insists is the Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant, is present in Little Beaver Creek in Pike County.
Ketterer noted the creek feeds directly into the Scioto River, which provides much of the area’s drinking water. Essentially, he added, do the math.
Earlier this year, Ketterer helped set off a firestorm when he released a pro bono report alleging the presence of enriched radioactive materials inside Zahn’s Corner Middle School in Piketon. Ketterer claimed there is only one logical local source for enriched radioactive materials, the closed, but still controversial plant. The plant’s very purpose when it was operational was to increase the radioactivity of certain materials.
Ketterer was in Piketon Saturday for a public meeting held on the campus of Piketon High/Junior High School. By way of background, he told the crowd of about 75 he has worked in his field for decades. He said he has done radioactive contamination studies across the country, including at least one study used by the plaintiffs in an out-of-state lawsuit against another Department of Energy site. Ketterer released his initial report on Zahn’s and the Piketon area in April, with a better publicized follow-up in June.
On Saturday, Ketterer said last spring he happened to be in Ohio on unfortunate business, acting as executor for his father’s estate. While here, Ketterer said it occurred to him to put his knowledge and experience to use with regard the issues surrounding the Portsmouth plant of which he had heard repeatedly. He added it was then that he initially took sediment samples from Little Beaver Creek, samples which he claims clearly show the presence of neptunium.
“This is from the Portsmouth facility, this is not fallout, no way,” Ketterer said.
DOE officials claim the amounts of radioactive materials found at Zahn’s Corner are minute and examples of naturally occurring radiation or fallout from nuclear testing, the latter of which is commonly found throughout North America if not the world.
Ketterer could not be reached for comment following Saturday’s meeting and it is unclear what levels of neptunium he claims are present in Little Beaver Creek. However, on Saturday, Ketterer indicated the very presence of any non-background, non-fallout radiation should be a matter of interest, if not concern, for the local community. Ketterer repeatedly said he is not a health expert and cannot comment on the possible dangers of the levels of radiation he allegedly found in the Piketon area, perhaps most notably at Zahn’s school.
“The contaminants are there, that is the point,” Ketterer said.
Ketterer spent a seemingly modest amount of time shooting back at DOE criticism of his work. In a recent presentation on “Environmental Monitoring at Portsmouth and Zahn’s,” DOE criticizes Ketterer for claiming the source of any radiation is a controversial on-site waste disposal facility under construction at the Portsmouth plant. On Saturday, Ketterer pointedly stated he never claimed the waste disposal facility is the source of off-site contamination. He also noted DOE stated they concurred “with the findings that non-fallout (uranium, neptunium and plutonium) are present in some samples, and the elemental and isotopic signatures of those materials are consistent with (uranium) from PORTS (the Portsmouth plant.)”
At a DOE sponsored meeting Aug. 5, consultant Kathy Higley, a Ph.D. in radiological health, told the Daily Times Ketterer’s report never mentions the dosage of radiation to which persons inside Zahn’s hypothetically were exposed. For her, that is an untenable omission on Ketterer’s part. For his part, again on Saturday, Ketterer repeatedly insisted the very presence of non-natural or non-fallout radiation is at least potentially problematic in and of itself. At one point, he stated the radioactive materials found may “not necessarily be a hazard, but then there’s a lot we don’t know.”
For example, Ketterer said at this time there is no way to know how far alleged contamination from the plant has spread. But at another point, Ketterer added there is “no extreme situation of uranium contamination” at the now closed middle school.
Ketterer stated he studies issues from a different perspective than DOE, including in the case of some well-publicized follow-up testing DOE completed at Zahn’s. Ketterer criticized that testing, saying fiber material used to collect samples from the school were overly contaminated out of the box, so to speak.
Pike County Health Commissioner Matt Brewster said Saturday’s meeting was a direct response to two DOE meetings held earlier this month. Brewster promised an independent, third-party study of contamination at the middle school and elsewhere around Piketon is going forward. He said officials expect to study a radius of six miles from the center of the plant and he noted that radius clearly includes portions of Scioto County.
For his part, Ketterer said several times the third-party assessment is, at this point, critical. He said the local community needs to step up and find out exactly what is going on with the plant. Ketterer emphasized residents cannot depend on the federal or state governments to discover the extent of the problem, if there is one.
Reach Tom Corrigan at (740) 370- 0715. © 2019 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved.