Nevada residents uneasy over tainted water : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

Date: March 11, 2000 Residents uneasy about tainted water

Source of well radiation in Nye County still unknown By Mary Manning LAS VEGAS SUN

AMARGOSA VALLEY -- Residents here said early reports of radiation in their water 25 times greater than the safe drinking water limit sent shock waves through the farming community that hosts the state's largest dairy.

The rural community about 80 miles northwest of Las Vegas lives in the shadow of Yucca Mountain, the lone site under study as a repository to contain 77,000 tons of the nation's most radioactive waste.

Ground water also may drain from the Nevada Test Site where 928 nuclear weapons exploded above and below ground from 1951 until 1992.

So far, preliminary water samples collected by an independent team of Nye County scientists last week do not indicate any radiation coming from the Test Site, both Department of Energy and community spokesmen said.

However, the source of the high radiation level in the one well was still unknown Thursday night when about 30 people met with the Amargosa Valley Town Advisory Board at the town's community center. Complex analysis of those water samples may take weeks.

The 2,000 valley residents want to know if their wells will be contaminated by a combination of radiation from three nearby locations: the Test Site; an old commercial low-level nuclear waste repository operated near Beatty from 1961 to 1993; or from Yucca Mountain.

Nye County has asked the DOE when it assesses environmental impacts from a nuclear waste dump at Yucca to add up all exposures to Amargosa Valley residents from those potential radiation sources.

People who own property and operate businesses are expressing fear for their future, said Doris Jackson, the town board's vice chairwoman.

"It is very frightening to the community," she said.

Lisle Lowe, another board member, said it is "criminal" for the community to read preliminary well test results in the newspapers.

"It is an old problem if it is a nuclear problem," he said. "It could wait a few days."

Although no elected Nye County official attended Thursday's meeting, Advisory Board Chairman Robert Cameron said he wanted to reassure residents that they are in no immediate danger.

Cameron, who works for DOE Yucca Mountain contractor TRW Inc., said most of the Nye County commissioners were meeting with officials in Washington, D.C., over proposed transportation routes for nuclear waste.

Nye County experts who discovered the higher-than-normal radiation in a new well defended all of their test results. The differences in radiation amounts occur because each of the samples took different mixtures of soils and water from the well.

The first water sample drawn about 450 feet deep contained mud from the initial drilling, hydrologist Tom Buqo said, and had the highest level of radiation.

"We have no reason to believe the original reading was a mistake," Buqo said. "It is probably radiation in the sediments, not the water."

The second sample contained stagnant water sitting at the bottom of the well, which is 500 feet deep.

And scientists drew the third sample as water was pumped from the well. The highest level of radiation came from the muddy sample with levels dropping to below the federal limit from the pumped water, he said.

There is no danger to the community or the Ponderosa Dairy, Nevada's largest organic milk producer, all of the experts said.

"We don't see any reason for alarm," Buqo said.

Meanwhile, the state of Nevada, the DOE and Nye County have all collected fresh samples from the same well to try to explain the radioactivity.

However, Nye County water officials are so puzzled about what they discovered in the well's first sample, they are prepared to test every 50-foot segment of sediment to pinpoint a radiation source, Buqo said.

How fast ground water travels in the area is one of the biggest questions Nye County officials are trying to answer, Buqo said.

"You're looking at ground water moving a few feet a year from the data that is available," he said.

Both Nye County and DOE scientists have a tremendous amount of work to do before that question can be answered, Buqo said. Independent scientists last year said the DOE's computer model for ground water at the Test Site failed to work.

Doug Duncan, a DOE hydrologist, assured the residents that the DOE had stepped up its own ground water monitoring off the Test Site as well as inside its borders.

About two years ago the DOE increased its water monitoring to 40 wells in the Amargosa Valley, Duncan said. Actual testing began last year.

If any results showed radiation levels that would put people at risk, the DOE would verify them first, to make sure it was not an error at the laboratory, and then notify residents, DOE spokeswoman Nancy Harkess said.

Ponderosa Dairy manager Ed Goedhart said he felt more comfortable after hearing from all of the experts.

"I'll sleep a little better after hearing about how these people are doing the sampling," he said.

The dairy supplies thousands of gallons of milk to Los Angeles and central California as well as Nevada and Arizona customers

-- Martin Thompson (, March 11, 2000


what do you expect rubber biscuits, they blew off more nuke tests a few miles from there than any where else on planet earth with the exception of the south pacific or siberia. Of course your going to find radioactive dirty ground water there DAAAAAAAA. when they say a half life of 240,000 years to become half as potent they mean it. Bad sewardship of the planet.

-- y2k aware mike (y2k aware mike @ conservation . com), March 13, 2000.

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