The Paducah Sun
The Paducah Sun
Friday, October 06, 2000
Paducah, Kentucky

DOE's pledge to clean sites met with skepticism

By Matt Sander
About 150 people received a commitment from the Department of Energy Thursday night that contamination sites around the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant do not pose increased health risks and would be cleaned up in a timely manner.

However, many attending the public hearing at Heath High School did not appear to believe the commitment from Don Seaborg, DOE site manager at the Paducah plant. The hearing was prompted by the release of several DOE maps, showing plutonium at levels hundreds of times above what would be expected to be in the soil, sediment and water from decades-old fallout from atomic bomb tests.

“When I worked at the plant, (management) said you could eat the stuff that was out there and it wouldn’t harm you,” said Al Puckett during the question-and-answer session. “They said there was no contamination buried at the plant. But if you show me a man who eats plutonium, I’ll show you a dead man.

“I had a lot of friends at the plant who died of cancer, and I know where they got it. There’s no telling what is out there. I just don’t believe anything that management says.”

Thunderous applause greeted Puckett as he took his seat.

Seaborg admitted that Puckett and most others in attendance would not be satisfied with the response.

“I’m not sure what to do about helping the department’s credibility,” Seaborg said. “We want to talk with the workers, find all the sites where material was buried and clean it up.”

The maps, which track plutonium over an 11-year period ending in 1999, were prepared by Bechtel Jacobs, the company hired to clean up the site. Seaborg said the maps contain no new data and the information has been available to the public since the early 1990s.

In charting the maps, the data was pulled from volumes of documents that have been available for public viewing at the Environmental Information Center in Kevil, although Seaborg admitted that the data was “more manageable” in map form.

“I know there have been a lot of rumors, and we are here tonight to find the best balance of handing out information and putting concerns to rest,” Seaborg said. “The contamination off-site came from the plant. It is my responsibility, DOE’s responsibility, to clean it up. That is my commitment to you.”

He added that he was not aware of information in the maps until he received a media inquiry on Sept. 29. DOE officials have studied the maps since then.

“It is our opinion that there is no increased imminent health hazard than what we knew before,” Seaborg said. “We have experts to evaluate the information to see if they agree with us. If they don’t, then we’ll do something about it.”

Jack Boss said his house is along the northeast side of the plant and felt his property would be a likely site to take groundwater and soil samples. He said he has been contacted six times about samples being taken and for interviews, but no plant officials have followed through after the inquiries.

“I’m the closest to the plant that you can get,” Boss said. “Why is no one taking samples from my property?”

Bechtel Jacobs officials offered no explanation, but promised Boss a crew would take samples next week.

Judith Roberts lives on Palestine School Road and carried a newspaper with a map showing off-site contamination across from her home.

“We’ve lived there since 1993 and no one told us the area was used as a storage site,” Roberts said. “There were no radioactive signs posted and when we asked if the ground was safe, we were told it was. We had no idea what we were moving next to.

“They lie to everyone. This has hurt property values. We want to leave, but we can’t sell our home. Who would want to buy it after this information has been released?”

Roberts said since moving into the home, the medical ailments suffered by she and her husband are arthritis-related. But, she added that trees and vegetation will not grow in her yard.

“You can’t dig too far down because the ground stinks. (DOE is) going to whitewash this whole thing.”