Radioactive Find Prompts Survey of Area
PADUCAH, Ky. Six areas of overgrown, radioactive dirt mounds have been found east of the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant, prompting plans to survey all of the 6,463-acre West Kentucky Wildlife Management area to see if there are more.
All the mounds have been roped off and posted with warning signs.
"So far, the levels from raw data don't indicate biological risks or health hazards, but they do exceed levels for which we do postings," Mitch Hicks, health physicist for the Department of Energy's Paducah and Portsmouth, Ohio, Project Office, told the Paducah Sun.
Larger mounds, estimated by tree growth to be at least 20 to 30 years old, are in wooded areas on both sides of a road running into the plant.
They were found during routine DOE surveys during the first two weeks of November and were determined to contain uranium and polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs.
"Where we found one, we figured we'd find some more," Hicks said.
Subsequent surveys identified five more areas considerably smaller than the bigger mounds, estimated to be 1,400 feet long, 20 feet wide, from a few feet to more than 12 feet high, and containing 6,000 cubic yards of soil.
All are believed to have been created decades ago during dredging of Little Bayou Creek, which runs through the wildlife area to the Ohio River.
"We based that on what we were seeing," Hicks said. "There is about 30 feet of flattened area next to the creek where it looked like some heavy equipment was sitting there. You can picture a trackhoe dredging, spinning and dumping about 30 feet away."
The digging, which apparently took place long before uranium and PCBs were found in Little Bayou, was done before environmental regulations governing the work, he said.
"It was during a time frame when we wouldn't have had any well-established rules and regulations for dealing with contaminated soils," Hicks said. "For that period of time, to do something like that was perfectly normal."
Little Bayou has been posted for contamination since 1989.
Finding uranium and PCBs wasn't unexpected because the two are among the chief plant contaminants, said Tony Hatton, assistant director of the Kentucky Division of Waste Management.
PCBs were present for decades in insulating materials for the plant's power system. The plant separates uranium for use in nuclear fuel.
Results of five samples of the bigger dirt piles received Thursday showed a high reading of about 47 parts per million for PCBs, well above DOE's action level of a few parts per million, Hatton said. A part per million is roughly equivalent to one drop of ink in a 40-gallon drum of water.
Before the mounds were found, the area was opened to hunters, Hicks said. Hunters were warned after the findings.
Ultimately DOE must determine whether to remove, treat and dispose of the dirt or not disturb it, spokeswoman Laura Schachter said.
Source: Associated Press; information from The Paducah Sun: www.paducahsun.com