Pike County News Watchman
PIKETON - A local environmental activist is labeling a planned burning of vegetation at the Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant as dangerous.
Government agencies associated with the plant have been planning a controlled burn of the X-611A prairie, an 18-acre plot on the east side of the facility which covers a capped sludge lagoon. The process is considered to be a safe practice by the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency.
Vina Colley, a former plant worker and president of Portsmouth/Piketon Residents for Environmental Safety and Security, is objecting to the burn, stating that contaminants present in the soil could be released into the atmosphere.
Colley bases her judgment on an independent environmental study of plant contamination released last February by Marvin Resnikoff, Ph.D. , a senior associate with Radioactive Waste Management Associates in New York, N.Y. It focused primarily upon the plant's Quadrant II, but some attention was given to Quadrant IV, where X-611A is located. According to Resnikoff's findings, traces of plutonium and neptunium exist in that area of the site.
"How can the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency and other government agencies give the Portsmouth plant contractor permission to burn this contaminated land?" asked Colley.
"Plutonium is the most dangerous substance on earth. Haven't the Southern Ohio residents and plant workers been harmed enough?" If grass in the prairie habitat is burned, contaminants will get into the air, said Resnikoff during an interview on Friday. He said residents in the area surrounding the enrichment facility would not "be falling out and dying," but would still be at risk.
"If you inhale plutonium and other materials, it increases the chances of cancer to occur," he stated.
Brian Blair, a supervisor with the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency's Division of Emergency and Remedial Response Southeast District Office, doesn't see the burn as a hazard to the environment. "It just burns the vegetation itself," he said. "It doesn't burn down to the ground."
Blair explained that the burn was scheduled by the U.S. Department of Energy and contractor Bechtel Jacobs Company for November 2 in an effort to control weeds and stimulate the growth of plant life. However, the operation has been postponed due to rain.
X-611A was once the location of three lagoons, installed in 1954 and used for the disposal of lime sludge waste generated by the enrichment plant. Land was capped in 1999 and a developed into a prairie environment after low levels of chromium, beryllium and uranium were detected.
"It was a concern," said Blair regarding contamination present on the land. "But it was in the lime material. It's covered and beneath the vegetated zone."
The detected materials, he added, existed at concentrations which did not pose an immediate threat to the environment. The Ohio EPA denies the presence of contaminants in the soil.
Despite concern by Colley and her organization, Bechtel Jacobs Spokesperson Sandy Childers announced that the controlled burning should proceed as planned.
"We haven't rescheduled it yet," she said, "but the window of opportunity is through December 31." Resnikoff does not plan to take an active role in the issue and said he leaves all action against the operation to Colley.