Ohio delegation calls for action from DOE
By RICK GREENE
Southern Ohio Today
The Pike County Board of Commissioners are calling on Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine to intervene and request a pause of upcoming demolition activities at the Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant until a survey that is analyzing off-site contamination is completed next year.
In a 2-1 vote at Monday’s regular meeting, with Commissioner Blaine Beekman dissenting, the commissioners voted to send a letter to DeWine outlining the board’s position.
“Open air demolition of one of the buildings (X-326) at the PORTS site is scheduled to begin in December of this year and we do not believe that to be a safe or responsible plan,” the letter reads. “To suggest that enriched uranium and associated radioactive isotopes generated by the enrichment process utilized at PORTS are somehow not from DOE activities is simply not logical.”
Sensitivities regarding off-site contamination began in 2019 when transuranic elements were first reported at Zahn’s Corner Middle School. Air monitors near the school detected traces of transuranic elements – Neptunium in 2017 and Americium in 2018. Zahn’s Corner Middle School is about two miles northeast of the Portsmouth site.
DOE is funding an independent assessment, which is facilitated by Ohio University, to determine the extent of off-site contamination and its origins. The assessment is scheduled for completion in 2021.
Commissioners stated that if there is not yet an understanding of the extent of the contamination and an explanation for how it got there, then demolition activities should be paused until those answers are known.
“We respectfully request that you intervene to insist on a pause in any activity, specifically open-air demolition, or any other operation, that could result in further contamination and risk to the citizens of Pike and surrounding counties, until there is an explanation and remediation of what has already migrated off site,” the commissioners’ letter read.
In a recent virtual meeting, DOE explained that steps are being taken to minimize airborne radiological contamination that comes as a result of demolition activities. DOE representatives said fixatives will be applied to equipment and water suppression will occur to reduce dust and limit the contamination.
Commissioners, however, have countered that those techniques have been ineffective at another DOE facility in Hanford, Washington.
“Radioactive contaminants, including highly enriched uranium, are known to exist in the X-326 structure and piping,” the letter read. “To demolish these buildings in the open-air, using dust suppression technology that has already failed at another DOE facility (Hanford), risks releasing even more radioactive contamination into the atmosphere.”
DOE issued a statement Tuesday morning in response to the commissioners’ letter.
“The Department of Energy’s main priority is the safety of the workforce, the community and the environment. The environmental cleanup at the Portsmouth site is being conducted in accordance with all applicable laws and regulations that are protective of human health and the environment,” the statement read. “The design and operation of robust safety measures that will be employed during the X-326 building demolition have carefully considered past practices, lessons learned and new technologies. As an increased measure, DOE and the Ohio EPA will be co-locating 5 air monitors around the site, as well as 18 new Ohio Department of Health monitors that have been co-located along existing DOE monitors, located onsite and offsite, to continuously verify air monitoring data.”
DOE had no comment on a question from Southern Ohio Today as to whether it was confident no contamination would escape off site as a result of open-air demolition.
Commissioners Jerry Miller and Tony Montgomery voted in favor of the measure to send the letter to the governor’s office.
“The overall project interval is expected to last over 30 years and a brief pause to analyze and mitigate a known safety concern is worth the delay to ensure citizens are protected,” the letter read. “We implore you to act on this imminent threat to the health of the citizens of Pike and surrounding counties.”
Beekman opposed approving the letter because he said the appropriate course of action was to take the concerns to federal representatives.
“The governor doesn’t have the power to do it,” Beekman said.
The commissioners’ letter to DeWine comes three days after U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown sent a letter to U.S. Department of Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette calling on the Department to be more responsive to the community.
“As you know, the Department of Energy (DOE) has denied that the neptunium discovered at the school and other private residences in the community is related to activities at the site. As such, an independent third-party collection and assessment is currently ongoing,” Brown wrote. “I remain concerned, however, that the Department continues to ignore the concerns expressed by the community, the local school district, and others in the region about their health and safety. The people of Pike County deserve to have these concerns addressed and remedied.”
Brown continued that DOE’s relationship with the community is fractured and should take action to repair it.
“It is imperative that DOE take meaningful steps to improve this relationship, including, but not limited to: 1) improving community engagement and providing assistance to the local school district for as long as the middle school building is closed to students, 2) working in good faith with the third party testing consultant, and, 3) should the sampling confirm that the transuranic materials can be traced to the Portsmouth Site, pay for the construction of a new school building,” Brown wrote. “I trust that the Department appreciates the urgency of this matter and commits to protecting the public health of the citizens of Piketon and the surrounding area. I look forward to your prompt response to this matter.”
U.S. Sen. Rob Portman and Ohio 2nd District Rep. Brad Wenstrup, whose district includes Pike County, later issued a joint statement to DOE calling for the assessment to be expedited.
“It is critically important that the Department engage in frequent communication and outreach to the local community. We request an update on the progress of the independent third party assessment managed by Ohio University, and ask that, when complete, the Department makes every effort to prioritize its review of the assessment in a timely manner,” the joint statement read. “Furthermore, we ask that the Department commit to fulfilling any and all obligations, regulations, and mitigation that may be required.”
Multiple local elected officials have previously criticized DOE and the Ohio EPA for not having an adequate process for the public to provide input on the Waste Acceptance Criteria for the radiological landfill that will accept waste from demolition and other cleanup activities of the defunct uranium enrichment facility. The WAC was established as part of the 2015 Record of Decision approved by the Ohio EPA that determined on-site disposal was part of the remedy for the disposition of the cleanup project’s waste.
Uranium enrichment activities occurred at the A-plant from 1954-2001. The cleanup project began in March 2011 and is expected to go into the 2040s. Demolition of the first process building – the X-326 – is scheduled for as early as December with waste scheduled for placement into the landfill as early as the spring of 2021.
Commissioners hire Bailey & Glasser
In a separate action related to the A-plant taken Monday, commissioners voted 2-1 to enter into an agreement with Bailey & Glasser to represent the county on an appeal of an Ohio EPA permit that was issued to DOE cleanup contractor Fluor-BWXT.
The permit is for wastewater discharges from projects related to the cleanup of the site, including the landfill. Ohio EPA indicated previously the permit limits are protective and meet all water quality standards in the Scioto River.
Commissioner Montgomery, however, said exceedances of the permit have occurred repeatedly and the permit did not address the county’s request for split samples as part of future sampling efforts.
Commissioner Miller said he believes hiring legal counsel is prudent, but costs should be watched closely.
“I think we need to hire counsel. If we see it isn’t going anywhere, I think we need to terminate the agreement,” Miller said. “I don’t think we want to get into a position where we’re throwing good money after bad.”
A correspondence from Bailey & Glasser indicated the commissioners will be billed a rebated rate of $250 to $350 per hour and that a fixed rate is also an option.
Commissioners to formalize request for EMS services
Shannon Gollnick, vice president for Columbus-based MedCare Ambulance, appeared before the body and explained commissioners must issue a formal Request for Proposal or Request for Quote before his group can make a recommendation for Emergency Management Services.
The county has been exploring options to completely or partially outsource county EMS services.
MedCare Ambulance is a wholly-owned subsidiary of MedFlight. It is a non-profit that is partially owned by Ohio Health and the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.
MedCare Ambulance has a 24-hour station at Adena Pike Medical Center in Waverly that serves the needs of Adena patients. A potential arrangement with Pike County could provide all or supplemental services for the county’s EMS needs.
“They asked us for assistance and to see if we could help them. What they have asked for, however, needs a formal request,” Gollnick said. “They are looking at everything. It would just be unethical for us to offer a recommendation without a formal request.”
Commissioners to increase sheriff’s budget for 2021
Commissioners have increased the annual budget for the Pike County Sheriff’s Office by $100,000 and a portion of the funds are expected to result in the hiring of a sheriff’s deputy.
Commissioner Tony Montgomery said a combination of belt tightening and increased revenue results in about $115,000 of additional county funds being available in 2021.
“This is partly because we budgeted well and partly because of a slight increase in revenue,” Montgomery said. “Had it not been for COVID, it would have been a $300,000 to $400,000 increase in revenue. But a half a sandwich is better than no sandwich when you’re hungry.”
Commissioners enter executive session
Commissioners had an executive session at Monday’s meeting related to personnel.
The commissioners took no formal action as a result of the session.