DOE’s groundwater sampling program identifies elevated contaminants in 3 wells

doeAs part of expanded groundwater studies sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy, contractors identified contaminants that exceeded drinking water standards in 3 of 36 private wells that were sampled on property across the Clinch River from DOE’s Oak Ridge reservation.

A couple of the wells had elevated levels of lead, and two of them had “exceedances” for certain types of radioactivity, according to a summary of the preliminary results that DOE Environmental Manager Sue Cange sent to Roane County Executive Ron Woody.

The results were from a first round of sampling in DOE’s “Offsite Groundwater Assessment,” which was launched about a year ago. Additional well samples are being taken this month to gather information about groundwater flow and to evaluate potential for pollution from DOE sites reaching residential areas.

“As you know,” Cange wrote to Woody, “this assessment is sampling existing privately owned wells and springs in the area west of the Clinch River to evaluate the potential for migration of contaminants across the Clinch River from the Oak Ridge Reservation.”

The purpose of the study is not to establish the water quality of individual wells, Cange wrote, although all 36 property owners whose wells were sampled received letters from DOE — either stating that nothing was found that exceeded standards or, in the case of three, letters that discussed the results of elevated contaminants.

Woody said there did not appear to be any indication that contaminants in the three wells were associated with DOE operations. “I didn’t see any issues,” he said.

David Adler of DOE’s Office of Environmental Management said radon and other radioactive elements identified in the sampling occur naturally and are found commonly in groundwater.

The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation is doing independent sampling.

“We co-sampled one of the three wells identified (with contaminants) in the results provided by DOE … ,” state spokeswoman Kelly Brockman said. “As part of this cooperative effort, TDEC plans to do more sampling this month and next month. We will also be doing independent sampling at additional locations.”

The specific sites of the wells were not released, but DOE spokesman Ben Williams said two of the wells with results above drinking water standards were in Bear Creek Valley west of the Clinch River, and the third was in Sugar Grove Valley about four miles west of DOE’s East Tennessee Technology Park.

These sites are downstream from the Jones Road properties — near the boundary of Loudon and Roane Counties — where well-water pollution concerns were raised a few years ago. In those cases, DOE paid to hook up property owners with treated-water lines and now uses their former drinking wells to monitor pollution.

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About Frank Munger

Senior Writer Frank Munger covers the Dept. of Energy's Oak Ridge facilities and many related topics — nuclear weapons, nuclear waste and other things nuclear, environmental cleanup and science of all sorts. Atomic City Underground is, first and foremost, a news blog, but there's room for analysis, opinion and random thoughts that have no place else to go.