The Chronicle

December 21, 2000

UConn says storage site is safe

WILLIMANTIC — Responding to fears that a storage facility for medical and low-level nuclear waste may contaminate the city’s water supply, two University of Connecticut officials met with members of the Willimantic Water Works Commission on Wednesday to discuss the issue and answer questions.

Earlier this month, Donna Nicolino appeared before the selectmen’s administration and finance subcommittee on behalf of the Naubesatuck Watershed Council. The council is concerned about the proximity of the hazardous waste storage facility to a river, which runs into Willimantic and Mansfield’s public water supply. The facility is located off Horsebarn Hill Road near the Fenton River.

Selectman Susan Johnson, administration and finance subcommittee chairman, attended the water works meeting to discuss the watershed council’s concerns with the commission and UConn officials Thomas Callahan, assistant to the president, and Frank Labato, director of environmental health and safety. Selectman Lourdes Montalvo also attended the meeting.

Labato said “there is a great deal of misinformation” about the facility that he and Callahan wanted to clear up. They began by talking about the types of waste stored at the facility and how long it is kept there before it is taken away.

Biomedical waste, which includes syringes, needles and culture plates, are one type of waste stored at the facility, Labato said. It is taken away every two to three weeks and is stored in a cooler at the facility.

Labato also described the two kinds of radioactive waste stored at the facility.

“Low-level radioactive waste, such as gloves and paper towels, has a half-life of 120 days or less,” he said. “We store it for 10 half-lives until it is considered non-radioactive, then it is taken away and properly disposed of.”

The university also produces some higher-level radioactive waste that has a much longer half-life, Labato said.

“Radioactive carbon has a 5,000 year half-life,” he said. “Obviously we can’t keep that for 10 half-lives. It is picked up every three months and sent to permanent radioactive waste storage sites in other states.”

The facility also stores 12 to 13 tons of chemical waste each year, such as solvents, that are taken away and disposed of regularly, Labato said.

Callahan said the facility has existed since 1988 and is registered with the state Department of Environmental Protection. He also said that no spills or accidents have ever been reported at the facility.

The UConn officials distributed copies of a letter from Randy May, supervising sanitary engineer for the state Water Management Bureau to the Mansfield Planning and Zoning Commission in 1998 concerning proposed expansion of the facility, which is still under consideration. It says the facility conforms to the Aquifer Protection Act and that the present site “provides the greatest margin of safety” because it is removed from densely populated areas on campus.

Callahan invited the commission and selectmen to tour the facility. Commission members said they would like to tour the facility but a date for the tour was not set.