Ogallala Aquifer Contamination at Pantex:
PANAL/STAND Media Advisory
********** MEDIA ADVISORY **********
March 3, 2000
ATTENTION: ASSIGNMENT EDITORS;
CONTACT: Doris Smith 806-335-1050 or Don Moniak 358-2622
Pantex Issued Misleading Information on Toxin in Ogallala Aquifer
Pantex watchdog groups are expressing mixed emotions today on the heels of the Department of Energy's admission that trichloroethylene a toxic solvent compound was detected early in 1999 at unsafe levels in the Ogallala Aquifer.
"We commend Pantex manager Dan Glenn for reporting this to the landowners in an expedient manner, before it became a media story," said Doris Smith of Panhandle Area Neighbors And Landowners (PANAL), whose family farms adjacent to the West boundary of Pantex. "We have felt and been saying since 1991 that there is a possibility of contamination in the Ogallala. This confirms one of our greatest fears and now we are concerned this is just the tip of the iceberg." PANAL initiated a resolution in 1999 calling for an independent mediator between Pantex, the State of Texas, and area landowners.
The trichloroethylene (TCE) was found under the Burning Grounds, where Pantex disposed of solvents until the late 1980's, and where it still conducts open-air burning of high explosives and high-explosives contaminated waste materials, including some mixed low-level radioactive wastes. According to the Center for Disease Control, "drinking small amounts of trichloroethylene for long periods may cause liver and kidney damage, nervous system effects, impaired immune system function, and impaired fetal development in pregnant women, although the extent of some of these effects is not yet clear." The toxicity of trichloroethylene has caused the Environmental Protection Agency to recommend a contamination goal of zero in drinking water, meaning that only the absence of TCE in water can insure no adverse human health effects.
Unfortunately, the Department's news release and fact sheets omitted this basic health information and included numerous inaccuracies, such as:
1. Trichloroethylene is "relatively insoluble in water."
Trichloroethylene is soluble in water, which accounts for why it is a common contaminant in groundwater below industrial facilities. According to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, "Trichloroethylene easily dissolves in water, and it remains there for a long time." TCE takes months or even years to degrade when released into groundwater.
2. "Prior to June 1999, no TCE had been detected in any of the 10 Ogallala Wells."
One reason TCE has not been detected is because Pantex failed to test for it at concentrations below the drinking water standard of five parts-per-billion. For example, from 1989 to 1995, Pantex did not attempt to detect TCE below the drinking water standard. Also, during the second quarter of 1999, Pantex did not attempt to detect TCE at levels less than drinking water standards in 26 of the 45 wells it sampled, including 2 of the 7 Ogallala wells that were tested.
3. "All known surface contamination of TCE in the northwest area of the plant has been cleaned up as part of the Pantex Environmental Restoration program."
None of the "cleanup" activities at Pantex involve removing all contamination. At best, contamination is removed to concentrations that meet "industrial" risk-based standards. Cleanup at the Burning Grounds area is incomplete, unapproved, and unreviewed at this time.