Reading Room

Thursday, April 06, 2006  
A Most Unclean Site

By: Phil Hayworth
Published In: Tracy Press

About 50 people attended a final public hearing Wednesday hosted by the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and the Department of Energy regarding the cleanup of ?Pit 7,? the general term for the four contaminated, unlined waste pits just eight miles from Tracy city limits.

Various members of the public weighed in on the best way to clean up the pits, and government agencies such as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy said they would consider their opinions when they finalize a cleanup plan.

But some who attended the meeting weren?t convinced that the government was willing to do the right thing.

?They want to go cheap and mitigate the contamination by pumping out and treating the water,? said Bob Sarvey, a Tracy businessman and member of the Tri-Valley CAREs board, a Livermore-based environmental advocacy group.

?The only way to truly rid the area of contamination,? Sarvey said, ?is to spend the money, excavate the area and get rid of everything.?

From 1958 through 1988, the government dumped an unknown amount of radioactive uranium, tritium and other substances ? all byproducts of nuclear weapons development ? into unlined pits.

?The pits are 200 feet wide and 20 feet deep and were filled to the brim,? said Marylia Kelley, of Tri-Valley CAREs.

She warned government officials that their cleanup plan might not be good enough.

Water leached through the waste, carrying radioactive substances down into the water table. Now, the lab and the government want to pump out the contaminated water from the area, treat it and pump it back into the ground in the hope that the water in the area, over time, will become drinkable.

Meanwhile, a 2-mile-long plume is spreading south of Pit 7 and could be heading toward Tracy, they say.

The government insists that there is little or no possibility that Tracy?s water wells will be affected because the plume is moving at about 10 to 20 meters per year and because the area?s water flows have no connection to the Tracy water system.

?This is a really slow-moving plume,? said Michael Taffet, a hydrogeologist for the lab. In 45 years, the tritium would be gone, he said. The government essentially plans to let the tritium dissipate on its own.

Site 300 and the accompanying pits are Superfund cleanup sites, and cleanup plans require public hearings before a final solution is agreed upon.

The public has until April 21 to submit written testimony. To submit testimony, write to Claire Holtzapple, Site 300 Remedial Project Manager, DOE Livermore Site Office, Environmental Stewardship Division, P.O. Box 808, L-574, Livermore 94550.

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