State health department hears water concerns
By: | The News & Advance
Published: August 07, 2012 Updated: August 07, 2012 - 10:55 PM
Virginia should keep its moratorium on uranium mining because the state’s Health Department has no authority to protect homeowners’ wells from mining operations, opponents told state officials Tuesday night.
The department can only condemn wells if they become polluted, and it can’t regulate mine waste, speakers said.
About 80 people came to a Virginia Health Department hearing to comment or ask questions to the state’s Uranium Working Group, which is collecting information for legislators who may consider lifting the moratorium that’s been in place since the late 1970s.
Twenty-three speakers opposed a plan to mine a $6 billion uranium deposit inPittsylvaniaCounty.
No one spoke in favor.
Listening to the comments were Bob Hicks, director of environmental services for the Virginia Department of Health; Allen Knapp, the VDH director who oversees wells and onsite sewage systems; and Rick Weeks of the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, which works to protect water supplies.
Karen Maute told the officials the health department can’t protect wells, but only condemn them if they’re contaminated.
“There are not any known safeguards you can put in place, only educated guesses that may or may not protect human health and the environment,” Maute said.
Tommy Motley, a dairy farmer who owns 800 acres about three miles from Coles Hill, the site of the potential mine, told the health officials he hadn’t heard any state officials express concern for food safety.Susan Paynter told the panel some of its members may see the task of producing a plan to protect water and store radioactive waste as hurdles and challenges to be overcome.
“But there is one thing you and other members of the Uranium Working Group must remember: The people in this room are not an obstacle to be hurdled over in the race to bring uranium mining to the Virginia Piedmont,” Paynter said.
The region’s aquifers, surface water, droughts, hurricanes and tornadoes, plus its seismic activity, agricultural heritage and population numbers “are all variables with which the uranium industry has little or no experience,” Paynter said.
Mining would be an experiment if permitted, Paynter said, and “with experiments come unforeseen complications, setbacks and errors. We have no desire to be the laboratory in which the industry deems us lessons learned,” she said.
Paynter urged the panelists to recommend leaving the moratorium in place.
Eliose Nenon, a Chatham resident, told the panel no other uranium mining site in the country has a water table as close to the surface as Pittsylvania County. Her well in town has water just 8 feet below ground level, she said.
John R. Cannon of Halifax told the panel that his county is downstream on the Banister River and a flood or other natural disaster could send mining waste downstream.
“I’m telling you, stuff can happen,” Cannon said, referencing Hurricane Camille in 1969 and more recent tornadoes in Southside Virginia.
“It’s not worth the risk,” Cannon said.
Ran Witcher, another neighbor of the Coles Hill site, said his well was tested when test drilling was being done to verify the uranium deposit.
“My water was fine to start with,” Witcher said. “But as they kept testing, the samples got worse.”
When he offered a drink to people who were testing his well, “they said, ‘you couldn’t pay me enough to drink this water,’ ” Witcher said. Two other water-quality experts told him not to drink water from his well, he said.
Gloria Giovanelli told the panel assurances offered by other agencies that water would be monitored was not comforting.
“That doesn’t do any good once there’s a breach” in containment of uranium waste, she said.
“You can’t put it back once it’s out there,” Giovanelli said.
Well water impact questioned at uranium public hearing
By: | GoDanRiver
Published: August 07, 2012 Updated: August 07, 2012 - 9:34 PM
Published: August 07, 2012 Updated: August 07, 2012 - 9:34 PM
Uranium mining’s potential impact on well water and the recreational use of the region’s bodies of water were the topics of discussion last night at a public meeting hosted by the Virginia Department of Health.
Maureen Dempsey, chief deputy for public heath, noted that no questions would be answered at the meeting, but questions would be carefully recorded.
Pittsylvania County’s 93,000 residents live in about 26,500 households, according to the 2010 Census. With only about 3,000 of those households receiving water delivered by the Pittsylvania County Service Authority, that leaves a lot of residents relying on water from privately owned wells and springs.
People who spoke out at the meeting were concerned not only with long-term impact — how the tailings would be stored to avoid contamination in the future — but also with the day-to-day dangers of dust floating from the site or water runoff after a big storm.
Katie Patrick pointed out a small mistake would be disastrous, and monitoring wells won’t be much help if there’s a breach.
“You can’t put it back once it’s out there,” she noted.
It wasn’t only locals who spoke out at the meeting.
Naomi Hodge Muse, of Martinsville, and John Cannon, of Halifax, both expressed concern about the impact a breach could have on the water supplies in neighboring counties.
“If one cell [in an eight-cell container of uranium tailings] breaks lose, the [Banister] river is dead for 80,000 years,” Cannon said.
One obviously frustrated and angry resident — Jesse Andrews — said he lives 15 miles from the Coles Hill site and feels the VDH should not need his input on how uranium mining will impact his well and the Banister River.
“You should be able to ascertain that from reading the studies, the same as the rest of us,” Andrews said, calling uranium mining and “open-ended experiment.”
“Up to this point, those of us who have questioned the safety of uranium mining have been dismissed as ignorant, uninformed and hysterical, both by mining interests as well as by the people in Richmond who are supposed to represent us,” Andrews said. “Now, suddenly we are the experts. That leads me to believe that these public hearings are barely more than an expensive exercise in bureaucratic wheel-spinning designed assuage those of us who stand to lose everything we have worked for so uranium mining can be allowed in Virginia.
“I do not appreciate being condescended to, and I will not recite to you my concerns about the radium and quality of the water,” Andrews continued. “That would give the illusion that I am complicit in this process of pushing uranium mining on the citizens of the commonwealth. Here’s my real concern — that this mine will happen at all, because once the inevitable so-called accident happens, all the regulations you can write will become meaningless scraps of paper.”