From the Oak Ridger - Tuesday, October 21, 1997 SSAB seeks health study
by Mark Newbold Neal - Oak Ridger staff

Subject: Study the People not the Poison

A group of Oak Ridge citizens is going to the top of the Department of Energy for some answers.

A committee organized by Oak Ridge's Site-Specific Advisory Board has drafted a recommendation calling for a major medical study of health problems related to DOE's Oak Ridge Reservation. The recommendation, if approved by the full SSAB board, will be sent to Secretary of Energy Federico Peña.

The draft uses broad terms for its request to Peña. It specifies three important goals of the proposed research:

* Collecting data that can help in understanding the cause of illnesses in workers and residents.

* Treating those workers and residents, including making the Oak Ridge Reservation a safer place.

* Contributing to medical research of the impact of toxins.

The draft recommendation states that the study should be funded by DOE headquarters from sources other than its environmental management budget. It also states that university, federal and private researchers should be involved in the study. The draft does not specify a time frame for the study.

SSAB member Bill Pardue launched the idea of a comprehensive health study in early September, and the full board appointed an ad hoc Health Studies Committee to draft a recommendation.

Pardue said he made his proposal to the SSAB based on his work as a member of the panel that Tennessee Gov. Don Sundquist appointed to investigate health concerns in Oak Ridge.

"No question, there are a lot of people with ill health in Oak Ridge," Pardue said. "It appears a study like the one we (the SSAB committee) are recommending would shed some real light on what these illnesses are and how we can treat them."

Pardue has since been appointed chairman of the SSAB.

Ad hoc Committee Chairman Steve Kopp and committee members hammered out a fourth draft of the recommendation Monday afternoon. Kopp said the comments of interested citizens, including sick workers and residents, are incorporated with the opinions of board members in the recommendation.

When the full board meets Nov. 5, it will vote on whether to pass the recommendation. It can vote to reject the recommendation, pass it in a revised form, or pass it as is.

The SSAB has never before considered a recommendation to Peña. Typically, the board sends its recommendations to DOE's Office of Environmental Management in Oak Ridge.

According to SSAB member Sandra Reid, who is also on the Health Studies Committee, these health issues reach beyond the scope of DOE's environmental management program.

"We think these concerns should be raised to the highest level of DOE to get some help for the community," Pardue said.

The committee stated in a draft cover letter to Peña:

"Though the proposed research will be difficult, our nation must not shy away from difficulty, only to later learn that reasonable efforts now could have uncovered important information not presently understood concerning chronic low-level exposures to combinations of radioactive and/or toxic materials."

Reid, a registered nurse, says she has aided many sick workers and residents in their efforts to get medical treatment. She leads a nonprofit group called the Oak Ridge Health Liaison and also works with the Coalition for a Healthy Environment, a group of sick workers and residents from the area.

"They're studying the poisons, they're not studying the people," Reid said. "To me, it's so obvious -- it's a no-brainer -- we need to look at the effects in the community, find out where they are coming from and prevent any further releases."

Reid said she hopes the proposed study will unite the knowledge of physicians with that of environmental scientists. She said physicians are being left out of the public debate on health issues related to the Oak Ridge Reservation.

Reid said this could be a chance for Oak Ridge to make a valuable contribution to a relatively unexplored branch of medicine. She said there is plenty of research to be done on the relationship between toxins and human health.

"This is where Oak Ridge could come into its own," she said.

Copyright 1997 The Oak Ridger


Monday, October 20, 1997 Our Views:
Standards for OR cleanup still a question

How clean is clean enough?

That is not necessarily a question a lot of people would want to hear in connection with the waste problems on the Oak Ridge Reservation, but it inevitably comes to mind.

First, getting the funding for environmental cleanup out of Congress is an increasingly difficult process.

Second, moving from one level of cleanup to a "cleaner" level can lead to a much higher cost -- sometimes by a factor of several times.

A list of alternatives for cleaning up waste in the Melton Valley watershed, the one including Oak Ridge National Laboratory, illustrates the problem.

According to preliminary -- very preliminary -- information, 72 percent of the problem where White Oak Creek and the Clinch River meet could be cleaned up for about $51 million. Cleaning up 89 percent of the problem would jump the cost to $1.3 billion.

Is it worth the difference?

Well, that depends.

It is not clear, for example, what the annual "mortgage" costs -- the annual monitoring and security costs -- might be with the cheaper alternative. That topic, while discussed last week, was not clarified.

But the annual costs could be pretty hefty per year and still be a better economic decision. It could take a long time to spend $1.3 billion in annual costs.

This debate about "how clean is clean" goes on all the time without any satisfactory answer, as near as we can tell.

The Community Reuse Organization of East Tennessee and BNFL, both of which are promoting the cleanup of the K-25 site, now called East Tennessee Technology Park, talk enthusiastically about the potential benefits of recycling materials from that site. Plainly, "how clean is clean" is not much of an issue for those folks.

But environmental groups and the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers labor union take the opposite tack. They talk as though they believe the cleanup should be so thorough that residences could be built on the site.

That's a rather wide gap in expectations.

In the cleanup debate, we always have to remember that opposing viewpoints often start from dramatically differing premises.

Copyright 1997 The Oak Ridger