2006.03.21 – ACE asks for federal assessment of Tamaqua area drinking water

SUPERFUND SUSPICIONS:
ACE asks for federal assessment of Tamaqua area drinking water

By Donald R. Serfass, dserfass@tnonline.com
The Times News, © 2006

March 21, 2006

stillcreekThe Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry has been asked by the Army for a Clean Environment to assess the drinking water quality of the 2.8 million-gallon Still Creek Reservoir, serving the Tamaqua area.

The area’s largest environmental watchdog group is asking a federal agency to step in and examine the quality of drinking water serving the Tamaqua area.

On Monday, Dr. Dante Picciano, Esq., of the Army for a Clean Environment (ACE) sent a request for water assessment to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), a federal public health agency.

Picciano is an ACE founder. The grassroots organization is working to improve the environment by educating people about the dangers of exposures to toxic chemicals. The ACE group is based in the Tamaqua/Panther Valley area and has approximately 1,100 members.

The ASTDR is part of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Resources.

Its mission is to prevent exposure and adverse human health effects and diminished quality of life related to human exposure to hazardous substances from waste sites, unplanned releases and other sources of pollution present in the environment.

The ACE request presents a case for the possibility of contamination of source drinking water in Still Creek Reservoir, a 2.8-billion-gallon body of water that serves thousands of customers in the greater Tamaqua area, including 7,500 in the borough.

The request by the ACE group summarizes events leading up to the current situation:

“Some unusual cancer clusters have been discovered in the Still Creek Reservoir area and in the Borough of Tamaqua and as a result, the reservoir has been the focus of some preliminary chemical testing.

“On June 2, 2004, the Carbon County Groundwater Guardians announced that they had uncovered three cases of polycythemia vera along a stretch of road (Ben Titus Road) running parallel to the Still Creek Reservoir. Only a few hundred people live along the road and two of the cases of polycythemia vera were in the same home.

“On December 21, 2004, the Tamaqua Water Authority had several chemical tests performed on the water, sediment and fish in the Still Creek Reservoir. The results of the chemical analysis of the water in the Still Creek Reservoir showed 76 parts per billion (ppb) of lead and 56 ppb of zinc. The 76 ppb of lead in the reservoir is more than 5 times the allowed drinking water Maximum Contaminant Level of 15 ppb for lead.

“The results of the chemical analysis of three soil sediment samples showed: 1.36 to 1.94 parts per million (ppm) of beryllium, 2.24 to 3.26 ppm of cadmium, 63.1 to 93.5 ppm of lead, 17.8 to 28.8 ppm of nickel, 282 to 414 ppm of zinc, and 200 ppb of methylethylketone.

“The results of the chemical analysis of a catfish caught in the reservoir showed 7.34 ppm of zinc.

Recently, a bass with an abdominal tumor was caught in the Still Creek Reservoir,” states the request.

“The Pennsylvania Department of Health has been unable to establish any link to the unusual cancer clusters seen in the Still Creek Reservoir area.

“There are three sites of concern located directly north of the Still Creek Reservoir and possibly in hydrologic connection with the reservoir. The facilities are the McAdoo Associates Superfund Site, the Big Gorilla coal ash reclamation project and the Northeastern Power Company waste coal cogeneration plant. All three sites are adjacent.

“McAdoo Associates is a Superfund site that was used to dispose hazardous chemicals. In the 1970s, thousands of drums of hazardous waste were dumped on the property. Some of the chemicals dumped at the McAdoo Associates’ site included the following: PCBs, arsenic, benzene, beryllium, cadmium, chromium, nickel and zinc.

“The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) acknowledges that ground water, surface water and air at the McAdoo Associates’ site were contaminated by the dumping.

“Subsequently, the EPA declared that the McAdoo Associates’ Superfund site was cleaned up. However, many witnesses, including a former PA Department of Environmental Resources inspector, have stated that most of the toxic chemicals were dumped into bore holes into underground mine shafts.

“There are mines underneath the McAdoo Associates’ site that are believed to run to the east, west and south. The Still Creek Reservoir is located directly south of the McAdoo Associates’ site and may possibly be in hydrologic connection with the McAdoo Associates’ site.

“The Big Gorilla coal ash reclamation project is located adjacent the McAdoo Associates’ Superfund site and the Northeastern Power Company waste coal cogeneration plant.

“At least 600,000 tons of coal ash or fly ash have been used in the Big Gorilla coal ash reclamation project. The fly ash contains arsenic, cadmium, lead, mercury, nickel and zinc, consistent with many of the heavy metals detected in the soil sediment of the Still Creek Reservoir.

“The Big Gorilla coal ash reclamation project may possibly be in hydrologic connection with the Still Creek Reservoir.

“The Northeastern Power Company (NEPCO) is located adjacent to the McAdoo Associates’ Superfund site and the Big Gorilla coal ash reclamation project.

“NEPCO burns waste coal and generates coal ash or fly ash in the process. The fly ash contains arsenic, cadmium, lead, mercury, nickel and zinc, consistent with many of the heavy metals detected in the soil sediment of the Still Creek Reservoir. In addition, NEPCO releases tons of pollutants into the air.

“The recognized and suspected carcinogens released from the NEPCO plant in 2002 were: lead compounds (13 pounds), mercury compounds (1 pound), and dioxin and dioxin-like compounds (0.6 grams).

“Based on the above-presented facts, we believe that the Still Creek Reservoir may have been impacted by one or more chemicals possibly coming from the sites immediately north of the reservoir and that these impacts are adversely affecting the drinking water source for approximately 7,500 men, women and children in the Borough of Tamaqua.

“We further believe that the drinking water from the Still Creek Reservoir may be a contributing factor to the unusual cancer clusters seen in the Still Creek Reservoir area and in the Borough of Tamaqua.

“For all of the above-given reasons, we respectfully request that a public health assessment of the Still Creek Reservoir, the drinking water source for Tamaqua, Pennsylvania, be considered.”

Typically, when ATSDR receives a request, a team of environmental scientists, physicians, toxicologists, and other staff members are assigned. The group gathers information about the site and see it firsthand. They also talk with members of the community.

Afterward, the team evaluates all site information and presents it to the petition committee. That committee decides whether ATSDR will perform a Public Health Assessment or if some other action, such as a Public Health Advisory or Health Consultation or Community environmental health education, would better meet the community’s needs, or if no action is needed.

Requestors are informed in writing of ATSDR’s decision and reasons for it.

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