By Shawn A. Hessinger, Tamaqua Bureau Chief, shessinger@republicanherald.com
The REPUBLICAN & Herald, © 2006

January 25, 2006

TAMAQUA — Just days after the mayor requested help in funding a second study of Still Creek Reservoir, a councilman is calling for more testing at a water source closer to home.

Former council President James J. Knowles recommended the borough test the nearby Owl Creek Reservoirs in case they might be needed as a borough water supply.

“I still think as a precaution we should have it done,” Knowles told council members during a Tuesday work session.

Local residents became alarmed in June 2004 after an environmental group reported three cases of a rare blood cancer near the Still Creek Reservoir in Rush Township.

The Carbon County Groundwater Guardians, a nonprofit environmental watchdog group based in Palmerton, claimed at the time that three people, including a married couple, had been diagnosed and a fourth was undergoing evaluation for a rare blood marrow disease known as polycythemia vera.

Both the reservoir and the residents are located slightly more than a mile from the former McAdoo Associates Superfund site where, in 1978 and 1979, an estimated 7,000 drums and six above-ground tanks contained volatile organic compounds, according to a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Web site.

At a public meeting last week, Dr. Peter J. Baddick, a West Penn Township physician, suggested a more detailed causal study be done in the area after showing photos of what he described as a 17-inch long largemouth bass he said had been caught in Still Creek Reservoir. Baddick said the fish contained a tumor which might have resulted from contaminants in the environment.

The reservoir borders Ben Titus Road where the Kesters reside and is also just over a mile from the McAdoo Associates site, where Baddick has said thousands of gallons of contaminants may have been poured into underground mine workings before authorities took action.

Councilman Stephen P. Tertel said he also had concerns over the reservoir after a recent visit during which he said he had observed what appeared to be a petroleum-like substance bubbling up at one end of the reservoir.

Councilman Micah J. Gursky, an aide to Rep. David G. Argall, R-124, said Argall had scheduled a meeting with the Tamaqua water authority, Baddick and others to decide on a testing strategy. An earlier $3,000 test by the authority has been rejected as inconclusive by some critics.

But using the Owl Creek Reservoir as a drinking water source would present some problems, said borough manager Kevin A. Steigerwalt.

The nearer reservoirs hold only 500 million gallons and one is currently drained because the breasts of the dams do not meet current Department of Environmental Protection standards.

Steigerwalt said the last estimate suggested the dams could cost as much as $7 million to upgrade. The water would also need to be treated, requiring either a new facility or piping the water to the borough’s existing facility in Still Creek for processing.