By Shawn A. Hessinger, Tamaqua Bureau Chief , shessinger@republicanherald.com
The Republican & Herald, © 2005

January 19, 2005

However, reaction to the results – to determine whether contaminants from a former Superfund site have found their way into the borough’s water supply – has been mixed.

“The results, they’re difficult for the lay person to understand,” said Borough Manager Kevin A. Steigerwalt.

Steigerwalt insisted that the results, which have yet to be publicly released by the Tamaqua Area Water Authority, show there is no problem with the water in the borough’s 2.7-billion-gallon Still Creek Reservoir in Rush Township.

But a local environmental activist and physician, Dr. Peter J. Baddick, who said he has seen the estimated 150 pages of results, insisted Monday they do nothing to allay his fears.

“I do have legitimate concerns, and those concerns are the same as they were when we first asked the borough to do the tests,” Baddick said.

Steigerwalt said a meeting among members of the water authority, committee members from Tamaqua council and Stephanie A. Olexa, president of Benchmark Analytics, Center Valley, the firm that did the tests, had been planned for Thursday.

That meeting was canceled due to Olexa’s illness, Steigerwalt said.

“We take all kinds of tests on the treated water and never had any problems,” Steigerwalt said.

But additional testing was recommended after Baddick and others raised concern about the reservoir’s proximity to the former McAdoo Associates Superfund site in Rush Township where, in 1981-82, 6,790 drums of hazardous waste were removed as part of an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) mandated cleanup.

Six above-ground storage tanks containing organic solvents were also located at the site.

Five samples from various sources were tested by Benchmark Analytics late last month in an attempt to determine whether contaminants from the site may have migrated into the reservoir, just over a mile away.

Steigerwalt said a sample of raw, untreated water from the reservoir, a catfish caught by the reservoir caretaker and three samples of sediment from various parts of the reservoir’s bottom were all tested.

What exactly those test results really say about the safety of the reservoir remains uncertain until more specific questions are asked about what detection levels and other assumptions Olexa’s firm used in the testing, Baddick said.

“There’s a few questions I have about the testing that only the lab can answer,” Baddick said.

Those include such information as what the lab used as its base rates for acceptable levels of contaminants in the reservoir.

“Look, I have more of a concern today than I did last week, last month and last year,” Baddick insisted, but said he could not be more specific about those concerns until meeting with lab officials.

That meeting should be held soon, Steigerwalt said, perhaps as early as the water authority’s regular meeting on Monday.

“We’re telling people by the end of the month. We’re pretty sure we’re going to be able to schedule something,” Steigerwalt said.

He insisted the water authority does not plan to publicly release details of the tests until after that meeting is held.

Renewed public concern over the McAdoo Associates site was rekindled in June 2004, when the Carbon County Groundwater Guardians, a Palmerton-based environmental group, claimed three people and possibly a fourth had contracted the rare blood disease polycythemia vera in close proximity to the site.

Baddick insists incidence of liver cancer, testicular cancer among younger men and other cancer is on the rise in the area.

Late last year, Baddick said a door-to-door survey found 53 incidences of cancer in a four-mile radius of the site, a fairly rural area four miles north of Tamaqua. He said at the time he was also aware of 21 cases of leukemia in the immediate area.

A statistical study by the Pennsylvania Department of Health last October of cancer rates in nine local zip codes seems to downplay environmental connections with cancer rates in northeastern Schuylkill County and has been widely criticized.