2006.03.11 – LEAD LEVELS HIGH

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

March 11, 2006

TAMAQUA — Two experts consulted by an ad hoc committee of officials and concerned citizens Friday said tests conducted in 2004 on the 2.7-billion-gallon Still Creek Reservoir may show cause for concern after all.

In fact, environmental consultants Edward Shoener and Robert Gadinski said the study used last year to calm concerns about the reservoir shows lead levels in untreated water are almost five times higher than federal drinking water standards.

Shoener and Gadinski, both former Department of Environmental Protection employees, told 21 officials and members of the public at the borough office of state Rep. David G. Argall, R-124, that detection limits on the tests were also set too high.

“You want to know what’s there, even if it’s not quantifiable,” said Gadinski, a former DEP hydrologist supervisor and now a private consultant.

Argall was not in attendance at the meeting.

Shoener, president of Shoener Environmental Services, said resampling of the reservoir at a lower detection rate by the water authority could be done immediately at a cost of less than $10,000.

However, he said most important of all for the authority is to address the reason for unusually high lead levels in the water measured by the 2004 study at 76 parts per billion, well above the 15 parts per billion drinking standard. Water authority officials said that level has not been mimicked in tests at the tap in customers’ homes and businesses.

Authority members, however, also seemed to bristle about criticism of a study they had last year used to promote the argument that drinking water in the reservoir was acceptable and safe.

“Where do we get started?” asked water authority Brian Connelly.

Meanwhile, water authority member John Tracey traded a heated exchange with West Penn physician and environmental advocate Dr. Peter J. Baddick after Baddick scolded water officials for being defensive about the study results.

“You’re not going to get an argument from me. I’m for this,” Tracey said.

Gadinski said a more comprehensive study would involve a hydrogeological model of the lake, drilling wells to test groundwater while identifying and testing all surface water entering the reservoir.

The project would involve drilling at least four monitoring wells for groundwater testing and could easily reach into the multiple six figures in terms of cost, said Gadinski and Shoener.

Clyde C. “Champ” Holman, district administrator for state Sen. James J. Rhoades, R-29, pledged $5,000 to aid in the study and said he was also examining the possibility of federal funding for a broader health study.

John Soley, a resident of Ben Titus Road who was diagnosed in 1997 with cancer of the bone marrow, said studies of those who believe they have become ill because of the proximity of a former superfund site also believed to have possibly contaminated the reservoir should also be done.

“Why are we all sick?” Soley asked officials.

Baddick estimated nearly a dozen people locally, including patients in Tamaqua, have now been diagnosed with Polycythemia Vera, a rare red blood cell cancer with national incidence Baddick places at 1 in 200,000.

The disease has been linked in some cases to exposure to certain solvents.

Both those with various types of cancer along Ben Titus Road and the reservoir itself are just over a mile from the former McAdoo Associates site.

There, in the years before a mandated federal clean-up project, Baddick and concerned Hometown resident Joseph Murphy say hundreds of thousands of gallons of beryllium, paint sludge, and cyanide were dumped.

In 2004, a Carbon County environmental group rekindled concern over the site with reports of three recently diagnosed cases of Polycythemia Vera along Ben Titus Road near the reservoir.

Gadinski said it was also possible the EPA or another federal agency might help with funding of the testing based on the elevated lead levels and other findings.