WVU research group confirms initial radiation testing at Clyde Mine discharge

August 31, 2015
Acid mine drainage water from the Clyde Mine flows into Ten Mile Creek near Fredericktown in this May 2013 file photo. - Observer-Reporter Order a Print

Additional testing by a West Virginia University research group confirmed its initial finding that radiation levels in the Clyde Mine discharge on Ten Mile Creek are well below those set by federal drinking water regulations.

”We looked hard and just could not find any evidence of harmful radiation levels,” said Dr. Paul Ziemkiewicz, director of the West Virginia Water Research Institute.

The issue of radioactivity in the Clyde Mine discharge and in Ten Mile Creek was first raised several months ago by the Greene County Chapter of the Izaak Walton League.

The league based its concerns on results it obtained from the state Department of Environmental Protection on preliminary testing DEP conducted in April 2014. Those tests revealed extremely high radium levels of between 102 and 301 picocuries per liter, well above the federal drinking water standard of 5 pCi/L.

On June 25, the institute sampled water at the same three sites DEP sampled in 2014: the discharge at the Clyde Mine and those at two coal refuse sites, one farther upstream at the Emerald Mine and another at the Cumberland Mine on Whiteley Creek.

The institute found acceptable levels of radium for drinking water at all three sites. To make sure the initial results were valid, the institute retested the Clyde Mine discharge, sampling mine discharge water six times over a two-week period on the last week of July and the first week of August, Ziemkiewicz said.

The new results showed the highest minimum detectable concentration of alpha radiation was 2.95 pCi/L, with reported values averaging 0.74 pCi/L.

The institute retested the Clyde Mine discharge because it was the only site where the level for one parameter, gross alpha, in the initial testing even approached that established for drinking water, Ziemkiewicz said.

Because the initial sample was high in total dissolved solids, the institute tested the new samples using two methods, one recommended by the Environmental Protection Agency for water with high total dissolved solids, he said.

The institute also raised several issues that could possibly explain the discrepancies between its results and DEP’s April 2014 results.

Ziemkiewicz cited an inconsistency in DEP’s data and noted it was unclear what analytical method DEP used to determine radium concentrations. DEP also measured radium by gamma spectroscopy which, he said, is not very precise when used for water samples. The institute used more precise radiochemistry methods, he said.

Ken Dufalla, president of the Greene County chapter of the Izaak Walton League, said he was glad to learn of the institute’s new testing results but wanted to wait until all the testing is completed

“Don’t jump the gun,” Dufalla said. “Let’s hope WWRI is correct, but we’re going to wait until all data is in and we can analyze it so we know for sure.”

DEP conducted a more elaborate round of testing in mid-June, with the results expected to be made public later this month. Duke University and another university group also conducted sampling, Dufalla said

”We’re going to wait until we have all the facts,” he said.

The league also contends high water flow in the creek in June would dilute the water and affect the detection of radiation. However, experts said rainfall at that time would not likely affect the Clyde Mine discharge.

DEP spokesman John Poister said the institute shared its results with the department, but the department will not comment until its own testing is completed. DEP expects its results to be ready sometime after Labor Day, he said.

Bob Niedbala worked as a general assignment reporter for the newspaper for 27 years in the Greene County bureau. He received a bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Pittsburgh.

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