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Agency: NFS poses no hazard

JIM WOZNIAK • May 16, 2007 at 12:09 PM

ERWIN - A small but vocal crowd was displeased Tuesday with a federal report that concluded organic chemicals at Nuclear Fuel Services currently do not pose a threat to the community and are an "indeterminate" health hazard from activities of more than 20 years ago.

The group of about 12 people also was unhappy NFS did not inform the public about a spill of 35 liters of highly enriched uranium in 2006 that shut down a processing area for six months. Erwin Mayor Brushy Lewis said the company's decision not to disclose anything because of national security did not sound right.

Representatives for the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) were in town Tuesday to present their public health assessment of NFS, which actress Park Overall spawned with a request to the agency. The conclusions remained essentially the same as what was presented in 2006.

Assessing past conditions, the ATSDR said NFS is an "indeterminate public health hazard" because critical information was not available. The agency said no verifiable information existed that groundwater was not used before the 1980s and that historic sampling of atmospheric releases is lacking.

Looking at current and future conditions, the ATSDR said NFS poses "no apparent public health hazard." The agency reached that conclusion because "there are no completed exposure pathways existing whereby the groundwater would be used as a source of public water. While it is possible there might be some exposure through atmospheric exposure pathways, they are not likely to affect health adversely.

In a news release, NFS spokesman Tony Treadway said the company agrees with the agency's determination that NFS poses no apparent health risk.

"The company and independent state and federal regulatory agencies regularly and consistently monitor air and water radioactive emissions from the Erwin plant and have found no emissions that could pose any risk to NFS employees, the public or the environment," he said.

Chris Tipton, an Erwin resident, told Paul Charp, who wrote the federal report, that he cannot honestly determine that NFS is safe because he did not have enough facts.

"That's what should not go to the public because it is a false sense of security that you have given the public with that particular statement," she said. "And I would have to say there's no validity to that statement whatsoever. You don't have enough facts to make the public feel safe."

Charp agreed and suggested some possible wording changes that Tipton and fellow Erwin resident Barbara O'Neal said would need a disclaimer.

Referring to the recent disclosure in a Nuclear Regulatory Authority report to Congress of the spill, resident Sam Pinkerton wondered whether an explanation in The Erwin Record why the company did not disclose because of national security was legitimate.

Lewis, a retired NFS employee, said he did not see a connection to national security. He said that had never been an issue before but said it is possible NFS might have "come up with different scenarios that I don't know about."

Treadway told the paper that the company was forbidden to say anything under federal rules adopted in the wake of Sept. 11, 2001.

Another meeting will be held tonight at the Johnson City Public Library at 6 p.m.

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