- SEATTLE (ENS) - Radioactive
contamination in public areas surrounding the Hanford Nuclear Site in Richland,
Washington is higher and more geographically widespread than previously
thought, according to a report today from a government watchdog group and
a chemical data firm.
- The Government Accountability Project (GAP) and Boston
Chemical Data Corporation issued a study that includes the first reports
of plutonium in clams and fish in the Columbia River.
- The report includes evidence that radiation levels in
mulberry trees are higher than previously reported, and that strontium-90
has entered the ecosystem in high levels.
- "This is hard evidence that points to past Department
of Energy reports as being inadequate to protect the people of southwest
Washington and northern Oregon," said Tom Carpenter, GAP Nuclear Oversight
- The data collection and written report was completed
by Marco Kaltofen, a registered professional engineer and environmental
scientist with more than 19 years of experience in environmental investigations.
He is the president of Boston Chemical Data, a corporation specializing
in environmental investigations. The company is a member of the American
Chemical Society and the American Society of Civil Engineers.
- Samples were analyzed by Pace Analytical Services, Inc.
of Madison, Pennsylvania and PASC/Maxxam of Burlington, Ontario, Canada.
- The report, "Citizens Monitoring of Columbia River
Radionuclides," was peer reviewed by a retired Hanford scientist and
reviewed by the Oregon Office of Energy.
- In addition to plutonium being found for the first time
in fish, increased levels of strontium, mercury, beryllium, uranium, and
cesium were detected in aquatic creatures. Short and long term effects
of this exposure remain unknown, the report states.
- It was also found that mulberry leaves from the shoreline
of the Columbia River at the Hanford perimeter are toxic, indicating that
the mulberries themselves may be contaminated.
- Strontium 90 levels in mulberry leaves in the area tested
"are 875 times higher than levels found near Richland," the report
states. "At this level ingestion of 0.05 ounces per day of similarly-contaminated
food would exceed EPA's maximum allowable risk level of 4 mRem [millirem]
- While the mulberry contamination shows "increased
environmental risk via transfer of groundwater hazards into the biosphere,"
Kaltofen writes that the uptake of strontium 90 by mulberry plants may
offer a potential method of remediation for groundwater cleanup in the
root zone of mulberry plants.
- Rodent droppings from the test area showed greater than
13-fold elevated levels of strontium 90 compared to downstream areas, "showing
that the material has entered the food chain for higher organisms,"
according to the report.
- An area of the Columbia River 20 miles upstream from
the Hanford site showed high uranium readings, according to testing conducted
for this report.
- "There is no explanation for this finding at this
time, though possible explanations could include that the uranium comes
from natural sources, from a source upstream of Hanford, or that contamination
was either windblown or carried up the river by aquatic organisms,"
the report states.
- Possible windblown contamination was also measured in
attic dust collected from homes in Richland. One sample showed levels of
radiation six times higher than samples taken from attics in houses in
other parts of the country.
- The 586 square mile Hanford Site is located along the
Columbia River in southeastern Washington state. A plutonium production
complex with nine nuclear reactors and processing facilities, Hanford played
a pivotal role in the nation's defense for more than 40 years, beginning
in the 1940s with the Manhattan Project.
- Today, under the direction of the U.S. Department of
Energy, Hanford is engaged in the world's largest environmental cleanup
project, "with a number of overlapping technical, political, regulatory,
financial and cultural issues," the Hanford Office of River Protection
- The Hanford Site includes more than 50 million gallons
of high-level liquid waste in 177 underground storage tanks, 2,300 tons
of spent nuclear fuel, 12 tons of plutonium in various forms, about 25
million cubic feet of buried or stored solid waste, and about 270 billion
gallons of groundwater contaminated above drinking water standards, spread
out over about 80 square miles, more than 1,700 waste sites, and about
500 contaminated facilities, according to Hanford officials.
- Included in this report is a reproduced graphic by the
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that shows the regions which were sampled
for this study. "The Corps' original graphic directs the reader to
conclude that the Columbia River marks the end of the portions of the Hanford
Reservation which are not yet cleaned of radionuclide wastes," Kaltofen
- "One purpose of this study has been to determine
whether the Columbia River truly represents the point where contamination
ends," he writes.
- "In reviewing the test results, the data do not
show that the river is a barrier or boundary to Hanford-related contamination.
Instead," Kaltofen writes, "the Columbia River is both a sink
and a transport mechanism for these wastes."
- Decision makers from the Department of Energy, the U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency and the Washington State Department of
Ecology host the Fourth Annual "State of the Hanford Site" Public
Meeting tonight at the Red Lion Hanford House in Richland.
- Carpenter and Kaltofen attended that meeting to publicize
the results of their study.
- "The DOE does not place a priority on testing conditions
outside of the Hanford perimeter in places where the public is allowed
to fish and recreate. Our findings call for increased scrutiny on all levels
regarding this area that is of grave public concern," Carpenter said.
- GAP is requesting Congressional funding for a Natural
Resources Injury Assessment, independent of the Energy Department, to examine
contamination around the Hanford site, said Carpenter.
- "We need to find out what this data means for public
health concerns immediately. At a time when the government is planning
to import nearly double the amount of contaminated waste already at Hanford,
it is crucial to have credible environmental data," he said.
- The report is available at GAP's website at: www.whistleblower.org.