Thursday, December 4, 2003

Easier radiation cleanup fought



By Dan Klepal
The Cincinnati Enquirer

CROSBY TOWNSHIP - The Department of Energy, which oversees the $4.4 billion, cleanup at the former Fernald nuclear facility, wants to relax several standards it agreed to more than a decade ago so the job can be finished quicker and cheaper.

Department of Energy officials claim public health and the environment will still be protected.

But the proposed changes, made public two weeks ago, outraged nearby residents who say cleanup managers are now trying to wiggle out of important details agreed to in the early 1990s after months and, in some cases, years of hard-fought negotiations.

Last week, the federal Environmental Protection Agency joined the chorus in opposition to the DOE's proposed rule changes.

Gary Schafer, chief of EPA's Federal Facilities Section, said in a letter that the nation's top environmental watchdog doesn't support any of the proposed changes for Fernald. Schafer also criticized how the ideas were created, saying they were hatched in closed-door meetings with no public input.

That process, the letter says, is "inconsistent with how such issues were handled over the last 10 years."

Among the changes the Department of Energy is proposing:

• Determining if soil is sufficiently cleaned by taking an average of the uranium content over entire areas, rather than the current rule prohibiting high levels in any part of the area.

• Cleaning the Great Miami Aquifer, also contaminated by uranium, to drinking water standards only in areas outside the site's boundaries. The current rule requires the entire aquifer - both under the site and outside it - be cleaned to drinking water standards.

• Reducing the level of cleanup necessary for soil deeper than 3 feet.

None of those ideas sits well with Lisa Crawford, who heads up the Fernald Residents for Environmental Safety and Health, which successfully sued the government over environmental contamination at the site more than 20 years ago.

Crawford said the residents around Fernald have worked too hard securing stringent cleanup rules to let them go now.

"We are not willing to let DOE gut what we did 10 years ago, that's just not going to happen," Crawford said. "And it seems like the EPA is right in line with us. We're all pretty upset about this."

DOE officials defend the ideas and the process. They say the ideas were born in "brainstorming" sessions, and that none will be approved without full consent of the EPA and the public.

E-mail dklepal@enquirer.com




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