Restoration Advisory Board Technical Chair Ann Roberts is thoroughly convinced the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is contradicting itself about uranium contamination at a particularly troubling location in Lewiston.
She says the interim waste containment structure on the grounds of the Niagara Falls Storage Site in the Lake Ontario Ordnance Works is, indeed, leaking. And despite claims to the contrary by the site's caretakers, she said the most recently released data can prove it.
"What they're reporting is not what they've found," Roberts said during a RAB meeting Wednesday.
Roberts' disagreement stems from a report given by the Corps to the LOOW Community Action Council two weeks ago that attempted to disprove any concerns over leakage coming from its IWCS structure. Instead, the report claims, high levels of uranium in the soil surrounding the site stem from residual and historical contamination from before the structure was built between 1982 and 1986.
During the Army Corps's presentation, representatives cited data showing contamination levels at specific trouble spots held constant at about 900 micrograms per liter, unthinkably high levels of uranium present in groundwater near a supposedly properly operating containment structure. They claimed it was safe, though, because the constant level showed there's no threat of leaking and that the environmental effects of the uranium were minimal as no drinking water source was affected.
But the RAB technical chair said the numbers she's seen fly in the face of the assertion. It turns out, she said, uranium levels are jumping by large numbers. She's basing her claim on two studies done by the Army Corps, including its 2003 remedial investigation.
At that time, she said, one particular trouble spot south of the IWCS mound showed contamination of 958 micrograms per liter. By comparison, natural occurrence is about five micrograms per liter and the federally mandated drinking water standard is 30 micrograms per liter.
By the time 2011's study came along, which the Corps presented last month, Roberts said the reading had ballooned to show levels of 2,680 micrograms per liter.
She also studied the readings coming from well OW-11B, which the Corps also highlighted in its presentation. She concluded the opposite of the Corps at this location as well, saying contamination increased from 248 micrograms of uranium per liter in 2003 to 1,760 micrograms per liter in 2011.
"To me, that sends up a red flag," she said. "These levels are not typical of what we've seen at the site in the past. You don't get levels like that.
"The obvious explanation ... is that if uranium levels are increasing in groundwater around the IWCS, then it would be leakage coming from the site."
The argument from the Corps that any contamination of the soil and groundwater at the site was due to historical storage practices before the IWCS's creation between 1982 and 1986 is also incorrect, Roberts said.
She said soil from surrounding areas was drudged up and buried with any barrels of material as the IWCS was created. This would eliminate any extreme elevated presence in many of the locations in question, she said.
If the site is leaking, the question becomes 'How?' RAB members like Roberts wonder if maybe there's some pipes not plugged at the south end of the structure, perhaps coming from a previously demolished building not incorporated into the mound despite housing radioactive materials pre-IWCS.
Roberts said the Corps has admitted previously finding pipes connected to other buildings to the west of the structure not in their plans, so it's possible.
According to maps of current wells on the property provided by the Army Corps, there has been no monitoring of the area between the demolished building and the mound, though Roberts said this might soon change.
"If they're seeing increases in uranium at this magnitude, there has to be a source," she said. "Uranium tends to stay near the surface, but this is completely at the subsurface. I can think of only one source."
Contact reporter Timothy Chipp at 282-2311, ext. 2251 or follow on Twitter @timchipp.