NFS attorney vows to contest contamination suit

By Kathy Helms-Hughes

   An attorney for Nuclear Fuel Services Inc. in Erwin said Tuesday that his client will "vigorously contest" a lawsuit filed Friday in U.S. District Court against Gerald O'Connor Jr., owner of Impact Plastics Inc. and Preston Tool & Mold Inc., located in an adjacent industrial park.
   Neil J. Newman, NFS General Counsel, said, "NFS has acted in a responsible and forthright manner in advising Mr. O'Connor and his companies about the subsurface groundwater contamination" identified as part of NFS's ongoing monitoring program.
   According to state and federal documents, Impact Plastics has been collecting its own groundwater data from beneath the Impact Plastics property, located at 1070 Industrial Drive. Sampling data indicated the presence of PCE, or tetrachloroethylene, which is known to cause cancer; TCE, or trichloroethylene, a suspected carcinogen; cis1,2-dichloroethylene, chloroform and vinyl chloride -- all at elevated concentrations.
   Radiological sampling has yielded data for gross alpha, gross beta, uranium-, plutonium- and thorium isotopes, and technetium-99, all above background samples.
   NFS's attorney contends that though levels of contaminants beneath O'Connor's property is above federal drinking water standards, neither O'Connor nor his workers drink the water or come into contact with it in any way.
   Impact Plastics says it is concerned that there are nearby users of groundwater who could be affected by potential contamination.
   "Sampling of the groundwater beneath Mr. O'Connor's plant property has been in compliance with all regulatory procedures and these samples have been tested by multiple independent laboratories," Newman said.
   In third quarter 2001, NFS and a firm conducting sampling of onsite monitoring wells at Impact Plastics split samples. Those analyzed by NFS's laboratory indicated PCE present at 278 parts per billion in monitoring well 120A. Impact Plastics' portion of the sample, analyzed by a separate laboratory in South Carolina, indicated PCE present at 420 parts per billion. Monitoring well 120B, sampled by NFS, indicated PCE present at 234 parts per billion; results on behalf of Impact Plastics equaled 340 parts per billion.
   Newman said all sample results done by NFS have been presented to and reviewed by Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. "NFS fully agrees with the regulator's conclusion that subsurface groundwater beneath Mr. O'Connor's property does not present a risk to him, his employees or the public," he said.
   A risk assessment of chemical contaminants in groundwater beneath the NFS site and adjacent areas concluded that no further remediation of the groundwater was necessary, according to Newman. However, NFS has begun a pilot project to clean up PCE and uranium on its property using In-Situ Reactive Zone or "molasses" technology. Though used successfully at other sites to clean up PCE and chromium, it is only now being tested on dissolved uranium.
   NFS, according to its National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit, is authorized to discharge treated wastewater from laboratory-, laundry- and fuel production facilities, uranium recovery, air pollution control equipment and miscellaneous wash waters through an outfall line in the Nolichucky River at mile 94.6. The city of Erwin discharges into the river at mile 94.4. In Aug. 25, 2000, NFS extended its discharge line approximately 8 feet into the Nolichucky.
   In November 2000, NFS sampled soil underneath a deteriorated area in the base floor trench of its Waste Water Treatment Facility. Data from the sampling indicated elevated levels of radioactivity in the soil. Once the problem was identified, NFS made repairs to the trench, and applied a concrete sealant. Soil beneath the wastewater facility will continue to be monitored and will be addressed according to NRC regulations as part of the "end-of-plant-site" decommissioning activities.