By Shawn A. Hessinger, Tamaqua Bureau Chief
The REPUBLICAN & Herald: Local News, © 2004

September 30, 2004

TAMAQUA – Anxiety over a former Superfund site has spurred a plan to test fish in a nearby reservoir that provides the borough’s entire water supply.

Borough council members at Wednesday’s work session discussed a plan by the community’s water authority to test at the massive Still Creek Reservoir north of the borough in Rush Township.

“We’re thinking that would be proactive,” Councilman Thomas Cara said.

The massive 2.7-billion gallon reservoir is just more than a mile from the former McAdoo Associates Superfund site.

In 2001, the EPA declassified the McAdoo Associates site from the Superfund list of the nation’s most serious uncontrolled or hazardous waste areas.

However EPA records show the eight-acre site just off Route 309 and a smaller .5-acre site on Blaine Street in McAdoo once contained everything from polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) to benzene and several other potentially harmful materials.

In June, the Carbon County Groundwater Guardians, a Palmerton-based environmental group, claimed to have located and documented three cases and possibly a fourth of polycythemia vera, a rare disease characterized by thickening of the blood due to excess production of red blood cells.

All three individuals live near the former McAdoo Associates site where, between 1978 and 1979, almost 7,000 drums and six above-ground tanks contained volatile organic compounds, according to an EPA website.

Incidence of polycythemia vera is roughly one case in 200,000 persons and may be even rarer, said Dr. Peter J. Baddick, West Penn Township, a local physician and environmental activist.

After a recently released statistical study of cancer occurrences in nine zip codes surrounding the former Superfund site, the Pennsylvania Department of Health insists there is no evidence of a connection between local cancer rates and environmental conditions, but residents remain skeptical.

A public meeting will be held at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 6 at the Quakake Fire Company at which the health department will discuss its findings.

Tamaqua Borough Manager Kevin A. Steigerwalt said the reservoir’s intake and outflow are tested annually for 21 volatile organic compounds, the same types of materials that were at one time stored at the McAdoo Associates site.

Many contend the site was never properly cleaned up.

However, council members spent much time at Wednesday’s meeting deciding who should test the fish at the Still Creek Reservoir.

Councilman Stephen P. Tertel and council Vice President James J. Knowles opposed a suggestion by the water authority that Penn State University conduct the testing.

Both expressed concern that any association of the testing with Barry E. Scheetz, professor of materials, civil and nuclear engineering at Penn State University and proponent of the controversial use of coal combustion ash for mine reclamation, which has angered local environmentalists, may damage the credibility of the study.

Steigerwalt said outside council chambers that a mountain separates the former Superfund site from Still Creek Reservoir and that borough officials have often been told that drainage from McAdoo Associates empties into the Little Schuylkill River.