By Joe Plasko
The Times News, © 2005

January 25, 2005

A testing of water, fish and sediment samples at the Still Creek Reservoir reveal no major contamination for the Tamaqua area’s water supply.

Those were the findings of an independent laboratory that performed the tests last month, according to a summary provided to the Borough of Tamaqua.

Brian Connely, chairman of the Tamaqua Area Water Authority, read the summary into the public record at Monday evening’s meeting.

“The results found nothing,” said Connely. “We have good, safe drinking water in Tamaqua, and these tests were for raw water, which is before it is treated.”

The authority tests the water on an annual basis, but concerns over a reported cancer cluster along Ben Titus Road in the Still Creek area prompted Tamaqua Council to request additional testing, which the authority did at its own expense, according to Connely.

Last year Frank Waksmunski, Towamensing Township, President of the Carbon County Groundwater Guardians, raised concerns about a number of cases of polycythemia vera, a rare bone marrow cancer, in that area, which is not far from the McAdoo Associates Superfund site.

The testing of the Still Creek Reservoir samples was performed by Benchmark Analytics, Center Valley. According to the summarized report, Benchmark received five samples on Dec. 21, including one raw water sample, three sediment samples and one catfish sample.

A catfish was chosen because it is most likely to ingest some of the contaminents for which the lab tested, noted Connely.

Each sample was tested for semi-volatile organic and volatile organic compounds, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs, a suspected carcinogen in humans which has been found to cause cancer in lab animals) and metals, such as arsenic, beryllium, cadmium, nickel, zinc, mercury, lead and chromium.

With the catfish sample, no semi-volatile or volatile organic target compounds were found in its tissue, nor was there evidence of PCBs. A trace amount of zinc was found, but Stephanie Olexa, President of Benchmark, noted in her letter that the level was typical for fish tissue.

The water sample also did not turn up any semi-volatile or volatile organic compounds, and again there were no PCBs found.

There were two metals detected, lead and zinc, though it appears neither are being reported at high levels. Olexa noted the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requires that lead testing be done at the individual homeowners taps, and that 90 percent of the samples be under a limit of 0.015 millograms per liter, although there is no EPA guideline for lead content in raw water or at the entry point. Lead was detected at 0.076 mg/l.

As for zinc, Olexa noted it is not a primary element regulated in drinking water by the EPA, but as a secondary element, the EPA guideline is 5 mg/l. Zinc was detected at 0.056 mg/l in Still Creek, according to the report. A trace amount of gasoline was found in the sample, but Connely said it was likely from the motorboat that took the test samples.

As for the three sendiment samples, no semi-volatile target compounds or PCBs were detected. There was a trace amount of one volatile compound, methyl ethyl ketone, which was at the detection level in one sample and below the reporting level in the others. Since the compound was also found in the field blank, Olexa noted it is likely that it is a sampling contaminent, not a contaminent accumulated in the sediment. Olexa also wrote it is expected metals would be detected in the sediment.

Traces of beryllium, cadmium, lead, nickel and zinc were found in the sediment, but all at levels well below clean fill regulations. Arsenic, mercury and chromium were not detected.

“In conclusion, although this was a limited number of samples, none of the results are indicative of a systemic or major contamination issue with the reservoir,” concluded Olexa.

A meeting between the authority, council water committee members and Olexa to discuss the tests was canceled due to Olexa’s illness and may be rescheduled.