Despite concerns raised by local officials, Ohio EPA (OEPA) on June 19 issued a wastewater discharge permit to Fluor-BWXT Portsmouth LLC, the prime contractor for the Department of Energy (DOE) at the Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant at Piketon, to discharge water into the Scioto River, Little Beaver Creek, Big Beaver Creek, and the West Ditch.
According to the Ohio EPA, “The permit reauthorizes existing discharges and discharges from a proposed project with the Department of Energy Piketon Gaseous Diffusion plant. The permit includes limits to protect all water quality standards in the Scioto River.”
“Before issuing the permit as final, Ohio EPA reviewed the draft permit to ensure it would comply with federal and state environmental standards, laws, and regulations,” Ohio EPA stated. “The Agency reviewed and considered public comments received at the public hearing in April, and during the extended public comment period.
“Additionally, following Ohio EPA’s review of the draft permit, Fluor will no longer have a variance from complying with the mercury standard. Rather, the facility will now be required to follow a three-year schedule more stringent than what was previously described in the public notice of the draft permit.”
The public hearing in April was conducted online rather than in person due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In May, the Pike County Commissioners and the Pike County General Health District released the following joint statement concerning the permit:
The Pike County Board of Commissioners in conjunction with the Pike County General Health District have numerous concerns related to the changes to the Fluor-BWXT Portsmouth Wastewater Discharge Permit that is currently under review. We have heard from numerous concerned citizens and other elected officials.
Permitted even greater levels of contaminants into the Scioto River will have negative consequences such as further degradation of the water quality in the Scioto River and others downstream. The burdens caused by this further degradation will be disproportionately borne by our economically distressed communities in Pike County and those downstream. By any measure, Pike County is among the lowest in the entire state of Ohio when it comes to income attainment, food insecurity, percentage of residents below the poverty level, unemployment, and education attainment.
It is irresponsible to rely on the regulated to monitor and self-report issues with radioactive releases as the OEPA does not even regulate radiological activities in Ohio. It is also irresponsible to grant this permit without the benefit of a comprehensive study to determine the impacts of new levels of contaminants, allowing the public to understand the new levels and effects, and the public to provide meaningful input into the decision before it is made. This decision cannot be made on the compressed timeline given.
As you are aware, DOE is funding a comprehensive independent assessment of offsite radiological contamination from PORTS in the Piketon community. Extensive sampling of the Scioto River is part of the independent assessment. Before more contaminants are added, it would only make sense not to approve this permit until the independent assessment is complete.
A non-DOE affiliated entity should be taking the samples and performing the analysis from Outfall 004 to ensure the results received are honest and accurate. If Fluor-BWXT pulls the sample from Outfall 004 to be analyzed, split samples should be taken and sent off to an independent lab for verification. All analytical results should be made public within a defined timeframe.
If the NPDES permit, which is in effect for a period of five years, is both a reauthorization of an existing permit and an authorization for new pollutant discharges, then the NPDES reflects OSWDF (onsite waste disposal facility) leachate, wastewater generated from open-air demolition of one or more of the process buildings, and the contents of those landfills whose waste (radiological, RCRA and TSCA) will be trammed to and placed in the OSWDF. Fluor-BWXT and previous contractors have not been forced into compliance with the 12-month average discharge limit for mercury since 2011, on the basis that the equipment and facilities required to bring them into compliance are too expensive. OEPA has granted this variance with the understanding that corrective action would be taken. Thus, with this pending approval, OEPA continues to grant variance through 2023. Looking at the new sampling pollutant constituents, how can we feel comfortable that DOE will comply?
Lastly, the loading of more contaminants into the Scioto River may limit future improvements and/or the expansion of other systems such as Waverly and Piketon. It is not fair to our community to allow DOE to take up so much of the river’s capacity that it limits the ability of the river to accept more discharge. This could limit Piketon and Waverly from new or expanded facilities in the future or may require more expensive controls be put in place when they build new or expand their capabilities.
Before approving any change to this NPDES permit, we call on the OEPA to:
1. Allow more time before this decision is made.
2. Allow the public enough time to understand the resulting harm from the proposed increased levels of contamination.
3. Allow the public enough time to provide input prior to the decision to approve or deny is made.
4. Provide another public meeting in a different format that does not prohibit large segments of the affected community from participating because of a lack of access to the technology required to participate.
5. Perform a comprehensive analysis on the effects resulting from higher levels of contamination flowing into the waters of the state.
6. Communicate and evaluate, through non-DOE providers, the effects of radiation that would result from this permit.
7. Ensure non-DOE entities sample and analyze all contaminants, including testing for radioactive contamination.
8. Mandate split samples be taken for each sample and sent off for independent verification.
9. Make available to the public all analytical results.
10. Delay this decision until the independent assessment being performed by Solutient Technologies is complete.
On Thursday, the News Watchman met with Pike County Commissioners to discuss their concerns about the permit being granted.
Commissioner Tony Montgomery indicated that one of the commissioners’ main concerns was that they want to see radiological testing of the discharge and would like to see the samples split with another independent lab, and he stated that this was not put into the permit.
“As of now DOE does their own testing, own analysis, own results, and then they pass those on to the EPA, which is then passed on to ODH (Ohio Department of Health), so it’s self-regulating,” Montgomery said.
Montgomery mentioned that recently he has lost a lot of confidence in DOE “because there are some things that seem to have been jerked out from under us as far as infrastructure and promises” that do not seem to be becoming a reality.
Commissioner Jerry Miller said that he does not believe that time or money would be added to the process by splitting the samples with an independent lab. He indicated that spitting the samples would add the ability to claim that an independent or third party looked at results either to validate the results or to differentiate their results against DOE’s results.
Montgomery said that even in conducting soil samples to put in a septic tank, he cannot analyze his own soil samples and then give the results to the health department.
“I have to send them (the soil samples) off, and I have an expense, and this is for a septic system,” which has nothing to do with any kind of radiological outflow, he commented.
“DOE scrutinizes septic systems much more closely or harshly than it appears they scrutinize DOE,” Miller said. “And maybe that’s not the case, but the appearance is that’s exactly the case.”
Miller said they are just looking for more of a situation with checks and balances, “and it doesn’t seem that Ohio EPA is willing to do that or to insist that DOE do that as part of the permit grant.”
In a recent Facebook post after the permit was issued, the Pike County General Health District indicated that it appears the only step being implemented in response to the commissioners’ and health district’s concerns is the removal of the variance for mercury.
“After being out of compliance since 2011, they now will have to meet the mercury standard for waste being released into Scioto River, Little Beaver Creek, Big Run, and the West Ditch,” the health district stated.
The final permit and the response to comments document are available on Ohio EPA’s website at https://epa.ohio.gov/Portals/35/permits/0IO00000-Fluor-BWXT-Portsmouth.pdf
Issuance of final permits can be appealed to the Ohio Environmental Review Appeals Commission (ERAC). Appeals generally must be filed within 30 days of issuing a final action; therefore, anyone considering filing an appeal should contact ERAC at (614) 466-8950 for more information, according to OEPA.