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Toxic waste cleanup in Parks Twp. 'a good while' away

Mary Ann Thomas

Don’t expect removal of radioactive and chemical toxic waste any time soon at the BWX Technologies dump along Route 66.

U.S. Sen. Bob Casey Jr., who on Wednesday met with Jo-Ellen Darcy, assistant secretary of the Army in Washington, said digging at the site likely will not resume until late next year.

Casey met with Darcy to push for action on Congress’ mandated cleanup by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at the 44-acre site, which stalled last fall.

“It’s going to take a good while to have a new contractor in place and do the work,” Casey said. “The main thing is that they move forward to get started.”

Candice Walters, a spokeswoman for the corps, which has headquarters in Washington, said: “It is going to depend upon who the lead agency is for the project and when a contract is awarded. At this point, we are not sure.”

Known as the Shallow Land Disposal Area, radioactive and chemical waste from Babcock & Wilcox (now BWX) and formerly from Nuclear Materials and Equipment Corp. (NUMEC) was buried in 10 trenches from 1960 to the early 1970s.

After decades of wrangling, excavating of the buried waste pits began last year but stopped six weeks later because a contractor allegedly mishandled some waste and greater-than-expected quantities of “complex” nuclear material were found.

Federal officials in Washington are trying to decide what to do with the site. As the complexity of the project increases, costs for the cleanup and disposal off site could escalate from the current $170 million to an estimated $500 million.

Who’s in charge?

Complicating matters further is the number of federal agencies weighing in on the cleanup.

For example, the National Security Council hosted a June 21 meeting on the status of the Parks dumpsite at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in Washington. The meeting included representatives from the corps, Department of Energy, the CIA and FBI, Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Management and Budget, Department of Justice, the National Security Council and the National Security Administration.

Walters confirmed the meeting, and Casey said he is concerned about whether all of the agencies can work together to allow the project to move forward.

“I’m urging every agency, including the White House itself, to make sure that all the various entities are working together,” Casey said. “And we have to make sure that everything is being done to keep a focus on the cleanup and to make sure they are taking precautions to protect public health.”

Leechburg environmental activist Patty Ameno is glad to see the waste dump getting “appropriate government attention.”

She said, “I think at this point, all of the burners are on the stove.”

Last month, Casey called on Hubert T. Bell, inspector general of the NRC, to investigate whether all government agencies involved in the cleanup are cooperating.

The inspector general’s office is reviewing Casey’s request, according to Joseph McMillan, NRC assistant inspector general for investigations.

In the meantime, more public officials continue to get involved in getting the cleanup resolved.

U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey has been in “constant contact with local and federal officials” about the SLDA, according to Toomey spokeswoman Rebecca Neal.

Toomey has scheduled a meeting to discuss the cleanup project with the corps next week, Neal said.

And local communities, such as Leechburg, are passing resolutions calling for the corps to stay at the helm to continue the cleanup.

Last month, about 150 residents and elected officials attended a corps meeting in Parks Township to give comments to send on to Corps decision-makers in Washington.


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