Steps Taken to Address Pantex Plant Groundwater Problems

Energy Secretary Bill Richardson this week ordered a series of actions to address recently uncovered groundwater contamination at the Pantex Plant near Amarillo, Texas.

Energy Secretary Bill Richardson this week ordered a series of actions to address recently uncovered groundwater contamination at the Pantex Pant near Amarillo, Texas.

The measures are aimed at gaining additional information, improving the site's monitoring program and responding to citizens' questions about potential impacts on a major water source for the Texas panhandle and several western states.

Last Friday, the Department of Energy (DOE) announced that trichloroethylene (TCE) had been found in water samples drawn from a well within Pantex that monitors the Ogalalla Aquifier.

TCE is a common industrial solvent used to clean machine parts.

It was discovered during regular quarterly sampling of the well in June, September and November of 1999, but the data was not reported properly until Mar. 1, 2000, during a review of the Annual Site-Wide Environmental Report.

"I am concerned about the discovery of trichloroethylene in the Ogalalla Aquifier, as well as the delay in reporting the information," said Richardson. "I want to make sure that this problem is dealt with quickly, honestly and effectively. The actions I am ordering will ensure that the Energy Department's considerable resources and technical talent in public health, public safety and environmental protection are available to help address the problem."

To that end, Richardson ordered the following actions:

  • Pantex Plant officials will host a public meeting within the next 10 days to make available all information relevant to the groundwater monitoring results.
  • A team of experts from the DOE's Office of Environment, Safety & Health will investigate whether Pantex's monitoring and reporting plans are sufficient, and whether procedures were adequately followed.
  • A team from the DOE's Office of Environmental Management who are familiar with TCE contamination and associated monitoring and remedial technologies will travel to Texas to provide plant officials with the most current information and help in developing a response plan.
  • Richardson has directed the National Nuclear Security Agency to support the DOE's experts as necessary.

DOE officials immediately notified plant neighbors of the findings. In addition, the neighbors' wells were sampled on Monday to determine if any contaminants were present.

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