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LOOW RAB presentation suggests IWCS leakages; Corps responds

by jmaloni
Sat, Mar 17th 2012 07:00 am

by Terry Duffy

Interesting discussions concerning the Interim Waste Containment Structure at the Lake Ontario Ordnance Works were heard at two separate meetings at Lewiston-Porter this week.

With the upcoming March 28 U.S. Army Corps session's focus on the Corps' feasibility study process and the IWCS future, two local environmental groups met. Disturbing findings suggesting leakages at IWCS were revealed in the first session. And Corps' responses, both questioning the accuracy and relevance of the reported information from the first, dominated the second session.

The LOOW Restoration Advisory Board met Tuesday, where RAB Steering Committee member and chemist Ann Roberts presented research on the state of the nearly 30-year-old IWCS at the Niagara Falls Storage Site at LOOW. Roberts, a former Youngstown resident now living of Wisconsin, suggested that leakages might be occurring, possibly from within the cell itself. "I think there are serious concerns ... of leakage," said Roberts.

In her PowerPoint presentation, Roberts discussed Corps groundwater monitoring that occurred from 1987 to 2008 in 36 wells - 18 upper and 18 lower units surrounding the IWCS. She said that in the first years Corps' monitoring was extensive but in subsequent years it waned.

Roberts said that wells and areas around the IWCS exhibited marked differences in their volumes of leakage over the years. Comparing data, she offered theoretical analysis that groundwater contamination was occurring.

One concern was elevated leakages in well OW11B, located in an area east of the IWCS proper and near the central drainage ditch at NFSS. Another involved a uranium plume found in an area immediately south and east of the IWCS cell.

According to Roberts, data from well OW11B showed elevated radiation levels of 248 picu curies per liter in 2003 that jumped to 359 pcl in 2010. "That well showed consistent levels of residual contamination in the earlier years. In later years, leakages showed a strong upward trend," said Roberts, adding that due to the presence of abandoned water and sewer lines nearby, it also presents a model of theoretical migration of contaminants. "The abandoned lines actually act as preferential pathways for wastes." She said evidence of groundwater contamination by a sewer line adjacent to OW11B was an indicator it was not isolated.

The other concern involved a uranium plume found in areas south and east of the IWCS. Samplings ranged from more than 900 pcl in an area of what was formerly Building 409 just south, to levels of more than 1,000 pcl in a sewer line area east the IWCS cell. Roberts expressed doubts on the integrity of the southern portion of the IWCS, suggesting leakages. "That's where we're seeing high levels of uranium," she said.

Of the Corps' opting to concentrate its feasibility study thus far on air samplings for radium and not leakages, Roberts commented she felt it was "odd." She said the leakage issue should indeed affect the Corps decision on the IWCS' overall future. "If (the Corps) input in the process is not accurate (on leakage) then it's a flawed process," said Roberts.

Roberts further faulted the current Corps' feasibility process, saying it was based on the IWCS not leaking into the groundwater, despite its own monitoring revealing high levels of uranium leakage. "The Corps is precluding some of its own investigations and analysis," Roberts said.

Reports of the Tuesday RAB presentation appeared in area newspapers the next day and became the dominant topic of discussion at Wednesday's LOOW Community Action Council session. That meeting, which was attended by six members of the Army Corps Buffalo District staff, was intended to serve as a preparation/discussion session with CAC on the Corps March 28 program. It soon went well beyond that.

"Are they occurring?" inquired Lewiston resident Gary Catlin to Corps officials. Catlin, deputy town supervisor of Lewiston, who attended the session with Town Supervisor Steve Reiter, pointed to the articles on the Roberts presentation and offered his concerns over elevated levels and leaks. So did many others who attended the session.

Corps representatives did acknowledge Roberts' findings with respect to elevated levels, both in well OW11B and in the former Building 409 area, but they also downplayed its significance to the current feasibility study under way. And they stressed that no leaks within IWCS are occurring at this time.

"Wells surrounding it (IWCS) are not showing elevated levels," said Corps Project Manager John Busse. But (Roberts' findings) it's not a new report.

Corps reps stressed again this week that while the NFFS does experience elevated levels of contaminants in wells situated around the site, they are found in far distant locations and should not be construed as being linked to the IWCS in any form.

Busse and other attending Corps members said that elevated levels indicating leaks do occur and have been a problem on the NFSS property. But he also stressed that they should be viewed as separate from the current Corps' feasibility study evaluations. "The Corps does not see well OW11B and others as impacting the feasibility studies at IWCS," said Busse.

Of the IWCS itself, Busse said a Corps Record of Decision would be made by 2015, and following that, the Corps would then be pursuing other analysis leading to feasibility studies to be conducted at the other areas of concern on the NFSS.

Of Roberts' findings in particular, (i.e. leaks east of IWCS at well OW11B, or south of the cell at former Building 409) Busse and other attending Corps members said those findings should not be linked to questions on the overall integrity of the IWCS itself. They stressed the IWCS' design (that being containment of the high level K-65 radioactive material and other lower level residues portioned inside separate units deep within the cell, and further separated on the south by soils) actually prohibit the release into the areas cited by Roberts in her report.

Further, they said that the presence of elevated levels of contaminants in areas such as the well OW11B or the utility lines on the east, due to the actual location of the lines themselves, could not be attributed to IWCS leakage as that area is located far outside the IWCS proper, beyond the central drainage ditch and above the K-65 residues found inside. "It would be impossible for that to happen," commented one Corps official.

Of discussing those findings with Roberts, the RAB and others in the community, Corps reps said they discussed matters in the past and are open to more dialogue in the future. "We responded to the needs of the community when we hired Doug (Sarno, technical facilitator of CAC)," said Arlene Kreusch, APR, Outreach Program specialist, Special Projects Branch, Environmental Team, with the Corps Buffalo District. "We are open to speaking; we have a full time number; we have an email address, but there are limited things we can do with our funding."

For now, the Corps reps said they remain focused on the matter at hand - the IWCS feasibility study and latest technical memorandums. All will be discussed on March 28 at the Lewiston Senior Center.

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