The Paducah Sun
The Paducah Sun
Paducah, Kentucky
Saturday, April 07, 2001

DOE site vicinity not risky: agency
Lawsuits filed in Paducah claim past and current exposure to neighbors. The report admits some danger in the past.

By Joe Walker

Despite multibillion-dollar lawsuits alleging the contrary, a federal health agency says environmental exposure around the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant poses "no apparent public health hazard."

A new report by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, a branch of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, says that while people in the area may be exposed to hazardous substances, "those substances are not at levels which would cause illness."

The report says past groundwater exposure to lead and the cleaning solvent trichloroethylene (TCE) threatened children who routinely drank from four residential wells near the plant. But those wells are no longer used, so the contamination "should not pose a hazard in the future unless new wells are drilled," the report said.

Exposure to vinyl chloride, possibly created when TCE breaks down in groundwater, and to large quantities of airborne uranium and hydrogen fluoride during past accidental releases from the plant are "indeterminate public health hazards" because data are not available to assess the risk, the agency said.

The findings disagree with arguments made in federal lawsuits filed in Paducah two years ago, claiming past and current exposure to workers and the public. Since then, the Department of Energy, which owns the plant, has admitted former practices that may have threatened workers and the public.

TCE, widely used at the plant for many years, has contaminated huge amounts of groundwater beneath the facility, and traces were found in a few residential wells in 1991. As a precaution, the Energy Department has replaced about 100 wells with city water around the plant.

The plant enriches uranium for use in nuclear fuel. DOE reports say tons of uranium hexafluoride (UF6) gas were released from process buildings during the first few decades of operation, although releases are minuscule now. Hazardous uranium and hydrogen fluoride are contained in the gaseous releases.

Federal law mandated the public assessment because the plant is a Superfund site. An agency news release said the work reviewed chemical and radioactive materials, their known health effects and potential pathways to humans, and community reports of injuries, disease and death.

The agency said the reports will be available starting about next Friday at the Paducah Public Library, Paducah Community College library, Metropolis Public Library and Murray State University's Waterfield Library. The assessment also is available at the agency Web site at

A public comment period ends May 14. Written comments should be sent to Chief, Program Evaluation, Records and Information Services Branch, ATSDR, 1600 Clifton Road, NE, Mailstop E-56, Atlanta, GA 30333.

For more information, contact Carol Connell toll-free at 1-888-422-8737 or by e-mail at Callers should refer to the "Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant site" and ask to speak to a health assessor in the Division of Health Assessment and Consultation.