Wednesday, August 13, 2003

Cleaning water beneath Fernald will take longer

Process may go on until 2020

By Dan Klepal
The Cincinnati Enquirer

CROSBY TWP. - Cleaning up the groundwater underneath the former Fernald uranium enrichment facility will take at least 10 years longer than expected, and perhaps more.

Bill Hertel, assistant project manager for Fluor Daniel, said the process of pulling contaminated groundwater out of the aquifer, treating it, and injecting it back into the ground could go on until 2020. Hertel made the comments Tuesday during an annual update on the state of the environment at the $4.4 billion cleanup on more than 1,000 acres.

There are two huge plumes of contamination in the groundwater under the facility, where the uranium measures between 500-800 parts per billion. It has to be cleaned to 30 parts per billion before the water is considered safe for drinking and the project is considered complete.

"Cleaning the aquifer is a lot like an ink stain in your shirt," Hertel said. "You have to wash it a bunch of times to get it out."

This ink stain is about 170 acres large.

The process is complicated. First the water is pulled out through a series of extraction wells. After the water is cleaned, it is pumped back into the ground, pushing more contaminated water toward the extraction wells.

Hertel said the plumes have shrunk very little, but the levels of uranium contamination within the plumes have gone down.

There is also concern that heavy rains could push the uranium content higher in the groundwater after project managers think they've finished.

That's why the state will check those levels five years after the project winds down.

U.S. Department of Energy officials are talking with the state to determine whether the groundwater has to be cleaned to a level higher than 30 ppb to compensate for rain.

But is water with 30 ppb of uranium safe to drink? "According to the Ohio EPA it is," Hertel said.


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