The Paducah Sun
The Paducah Sun
Paducah, Kentucky
Thursday, February 06, 2003

Subpoena to extend plant probe
The federal grand jury wants thousands of pages of documents related to the use of trichlorethylene.

By Bill Bartleman bbartleman@paducahsun.com--270.575.8650

A federal grand jury investigating widespread contamination at the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant has issued a subpoena for documents related to the use of trichlorethylene (TCE), a highly volatile chemical that was once used to clean radioactive contamination and other chemicals from production equipment.

It is an indication that the grand jury's probe of work done by former plant operator Lockheed Martin could be lengthy because the request involves hundreds of thousands of pages generated from Jan. 1, 1980, until Nov. 30, 2002.

TCE, which hasn't been used at the plant since July 1992, has been found in soil, ditches and groundwater throughout the plant and in private wells. It is the focus of a cleanup that will cost the federal government more than $1 billion.

The subpoena requests "all documents related in any way to the discovery, analysis, removal and disposal of water, soil or any other solid waste (including but not limited to sludges) contaminated with TCE ..."

It covers work in and around the C-400 building, which was once used for cleaning equipment and is believed to be the source of much of the contamination. Previous reports have indicated that a broken drain pipe in the C-400 building caused TCE contaminated with radioactive material and other chemicals to drain into a ditch and eventually into the groundwater.

The subpoena also asks for "any documents that identify any and all uses of TCE at the PGDP for anything other than parts cleaning and decreasing."

For more than four years, the U.S. Department of Justice has been investigating claims in a lawsuit that Lockheed Martin Corp. violated federal environmental laws and filed false environmental reports to earn hundreds of millions of dollars in operating bonuses.

The civil investigation expanded into a criminal probe in November when a special grand jury was empaneled in Louisville. Litigation of the whistleblowers' suit has been delayed 14 times since 1998 while federal officials decide whether they want to join it in an effort to recover hundreds of millions of dollars in alleged unearned fees.

Bechtel Jacobs Co. recently received a grand jury subpoena for the TCE-related documents. Bechtel Jacobs is not a target of the investigation but, as the primary contractor for cleaning up the plant, is the custodian of records.

"It is going to generate hundreds of thousands of pages of documents," said Greg Cook, Bechtel Jacobs spokesman. He said it will take until at least early March for an appointed "subpoena team" to compile the records and deliver them. He also said a limited number of records were delivered to investigators last month.

Cook said Bechtel Jacobs told its employees in a Jan. 30 e-mail that they "are required to search their office for documents, including electronic files and e-mails, and all forms of hard copy material" related to TCE.

"In producing these documents we must provide the original final version ... and all drafts and copies of the original document with handwritten notes," the e-mail stated. "These documents must be produced in their entirety, with all attachments and in the original order."

Lockheed Martin operated the plant for the U.S. Department of Energy from 1982 until 1992, and for USEC Inc. from 1992 until 1997. The subpoena also covers the last two years the plant was managed by Union Carbide Corp.

Lockheed officials have acknowledged that a grand jury investigation is under way and that some of its former Paducah employees have been subpoenaed to testify. However, the company denies any wrongdoing and says it is cooperating with the investigations.

One of the first witnesses to testify last year was Harold Hargan of Pulaski County., Ill., who retired from the plant in 1992 after working there almost 40 years. He claimed that during the 1980s, workers' mishandling of TCE resulted in spills that caused contamination of the soil and groundwater. He said the concerns he expressed about mishandling were ignored by supervisors and managers.

Justice Department officials have acknowledged the grand jury is under way but have not commented on its focus or progress.