New test shows little radiation at Ten Mile Creek

July 23, 2015
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Observer-Reporter
Orange water flows into Ten Mile Creek near Fredericktown in this May 2013 photo. Order a Print
Image description
Observer-Reporter
Water, turned orange by high iron levels, flows from a culvert beneath Route 88 into Ten Mile Creek in this April 2013 photo. The water eventually makes its way downstream into the Monongahela River. Order a Print

New, independent testing for radiation at Ten Mile Creek in Greene County will probably either comfort or confuse area residents.

A West Virginia University research group found levels of radioactivity that were barely present – and well below federal regulations for safe drinking water – in the waterway that feeds into the Monongahela River. The results released this week starkly contrasted with earlier tests conducted by the state Department of Environmental Protection.

“I’m torn,” Ken Dufalla, president of the Greene County chapter of the Izaak Walton League, said of the conflicting test results.

“If the radiation is not there, thank God because we’d have a hell of a time getting it out of there. But I’m also torn about the fact that this is just one lab saying one thing, and another lab is saying another thing.”

The Izaak Walton League did not conduct its own testing, but recently learned of detectable levels of radiation at Ten Mile Creek when it requested the DEP’s test results from last year. Those tests revealed radium levels between 102 and 301 picocuries per liter, which is well above the drinking water standard of 5 pCi/L.

However, samples taken June 25 by the West Virginia Water Research Institute revealed radium levels that were lower than 0.6 pCi/L. Radium-226, which was the highest reading on the DEP test at 301 pCi/L, registered zero on the independent research group’s test.

Paul Ziemkiewicz, director of the research group and a doctorate degree-holder in ecology, said the only potential concern was a reading for gross alpha radiation at the Clyde Mine discharge area, which was “just slightly below the drinking water limit on average.”

Both agencies took several samples in roughly the same areas – near discharge sites at Cumberland Mine in Kirby and the abandoned Clyde Mine near Clarksville, in an unnamed tributary leading to Smith Creek and near the area of Sugar Camp Road along Ten Mile Creek.

Ziemkiewicz said the hydraulics that bring mine drainage to the surface are “pretty constant.” In other words, Ziemkiewicz questioned the accuracy of the DEP’s test.

“The prospect that we’re both right is highly unlikely,” added Ziemkiewicz.

John Poister, spokesman for the DEP in Pittsburgh, said the agency has not yet had the chance to review WVWRI’s test. The DEP is also awaiting test results from another round of sampling conducted at various points along Ten Mile Creek June 22 and 23.

“DEP needs to conclude its analysis of the June 2015 sampling before reaching any conclusion or making any comparative statements between any of the sampling events,” Poister said. “DEP does appreciate the additional information from WVU and their findings.”

Dufalla, who has degrees in aquatic biology and chemistry, criticized the DEP’s method of collecting samples. He said the creek’s flow rate was 13 times faster than normal due to heavy rains when the DEP took its June 22 sample, which he claimed would dilute any readings of radium 226 and bromide. Ziemkiewicz agreed with Dufalla’s statement.

The Izaak Walton League sent a letter to DEP Secretary John Quigley requesting an investigation into the sample taken on June 22.

The DEP indicated the newest water samples it took will also be analyzed for “typical acid mine drainage and Marcellus shale indicators” using “accepted EPA approved methods” to determine if Radium 226 and 228 and uranium are present.

Emily Petsko joined the Observer-Reporter as a staff writer in June 2013. She graduated from Point Park University with a dual bachelor's degree in journalism and global cultural studies.

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