The Paducah Sun
The Paducah Sun
Paducah, Kentucky
Wednesday, May 02, 2001

Skeptical audience hears report about safety of DOE site
Residents may submit written comments on the report until May 31.

By Bill Bartleman bbartleman@paducahsun.com--270.575.8650

Nita Bean Rose has doubts about the validity of a report by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that concludes contamination from the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant poses no health risks for nearby residents.

"It's just another cover-up," she said after listening to officials with the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry explain the results of a study that took more than two years to complete. "They base the report on information from the Department of Energy, which for years denied there was a health risk at the plant. I don't trust the results."

Rose, whose father Charles Arvil Bean died of cancer after working at the plant for more than 20 years, wasn't the only skeptic among the 25 residents who attended Tuesday night's meeting at the Paducah Information Age Park.

Ruby English was concerned that the report didn't address the health effects of being exposed to a multitude of radioactive and toxic chemicals. She believes simultaneous contamination to substances such as uranium, trichloroethylene, lead, hydrogen fluoride, chromium and other substances has caused health problems in her son, who is confined to a wheelchair.

"What happens when they get mixed?" she asked several times. "I never get an answer ... but when they meet, is like an atomic bomb. They explode."

Dr. Karl Markiewicz, a toxicologist who helped prepare the report, said the report didn't include the effects of exposure to multiple contaminants, only the levels and effects of individual substances.

In general, he said, exposure to several contaminants does not increase health risks. "The target organs are different for each contaminant," he said, adding that some contaminants even work to offset each other and cause the harmful substances to leave the body.

However, he acknowledged that the effects of exposure to different contaminants needs further study.

Mark Donham of Brookport, Ill., chairman of the plant's citizens advisory board, said English's concern "gets to the heart" of environmental concerns about the plant's contamination.

Donham thinks the report is too broad. He wants officials to expand the study to take a close look at the health effects on neighbors.

Dr. Mark Evans, environmental geologist for the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, said the entire report was based on data that had been gathered by other agencies over the 50-year history of the plant.

It includes thousands of records related to air, water, soil and animal contamination. Based on the information, he said, assumptions were made on the health effects it would have to those who live, work and play around the plant. He said no samples were taken by his agency to confirm the results of other data.

In most cases, he said, the worst-case scenarios were used to determine the health risks.

However, Donham and others questioned whether that method was reliable and accurate.

Carol Connell, the health physicist who directed the study, said Donham, English, Rose and others may submit written comments on the report until May 31. Officials will review the comments and consider making changes to the final report, which will be issued later this year.