December 10, 204
Citizens group, EPA seem to be in a standoff
By Paul M. Krawzak
Copley News Service
WASHINGTON — Concerned Citizens of Lake Township has marshaled witness testimony, the views of its own experts and a report from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s ombudsman in arguing that independent testing is needed to prove a radioactive threat at the Industrial Excess Landfill.
Federal and state environmental officials are just as adamant that years of ground-water sampling have failed to reveal any radiation at the Superfund site, beyond normal, background levels resulting from global nuclear fallout.
Rumors that the military disposed of radioactive materials at the landfill have swirled for years. The old gravel pit never was licensed to accept radioactive waste, but several people, including former landfill owner Charles Kittinger, testified they saw military trucks delivering stainless steel eggs filled with radioactive plutonium in the 1960s.
U.S. District Court Judge John M. Manos investigated Kittinger’s allegations three years ago and concluded they lacked credibility.
EPA officials oversaw testing of ground water for radiation in the 1990s, and again in 2000 and 2001. The agency also tested soil near the landfill.
“U.S. EPA disagrees that there has ever been any reliable indication of radioactive contamination at or near IEL,” Richard C. Karl, acting director of the EPA Superfund Division in Chicago, wrote to the citizen’s group Feb. 13.
He said anytime there’s a “sporadic elevated detection” of radioactivity at the landfill, there’s been a specific concern about the analysis and “the data has not been reproducible.”
Contrary to the EPA’s view, two radiation experts hired by the citizen’s group to analyze test results found reason for concern.
Wayne State University geologist Mark Baskaran and Northern Arizona University chemist Michael E. Ketterer shared their views in a letter to the EPA on May 4.
“There appear to be numerous ground-water samples that contain plutonium activities in large excess of what can reasonably be considered background,” they wrote. According to the two, the levels were many times higher than what is usually measured as background radiation.
They also said some samples contained “activity ratios” that are more consistent with nuclear waste than stratospheric fallout.
Baskaran and Ketterer identified “serious analytical limitations” with the testing techniques used. They urged the EPA to allow them to use more sophisticated techniques to collect more ground water samples and reanalyze existing samples. The request has so far been denied.
A separate, government-sponsored review also found that past tests lacked the sensitivity to rule out nuclear waste.
In an analysis commissioned by EPA Ombudsman Paul D. McKechnie, Manitoba radiation expert Melvyn Gascoyne wrote that, “in many cases the analytical procedures used to detect specific types of radioactivity were insufficiently sensitive.”
For example, the tests showed “small amounts” of plutonium, but Gascoyne said the techniques were not precise enough to ensure accurate results.
Other test results for uranium suggested radioactive waste materials at the site, but Gascoyne said the techniques were “not adequate to give a precise value.”
He concluded that EPA sampling was “adequate for showing that the ground water conforms to drinking-water standards.”
“To remove all doubt as to whether any minor concentrations of radioactive waste are present and are leaking ... into the ground water,” Gascoyne said, “it would be necessary to use methods capable of one to three orders of magnitude more sensitivity” than past tests.
Despite Gascoyne’s finding, the ombudsman did not recommend that EPA conduct further radiation tests.
Because Gascoyne said the tests were sufficient to declare drinking-water standards for radioactivity were met in 2000 and 2001, “we believe such sensitive testing is not needed at IEL,” McKechnie wrote.
EPA officials questioned whether any test would “establish unequivocally” the absence of radioactive contamination.
They also recalled that the EPA Science Advisory Board, after reviewing earlier test results, concluded that it was “highly unlikely that radioactive contamination is, or was, present.”