Thursday, April 16, 2009

Lead Levels Near Uranium Site May Be Examined

Published: April 15, 2009


Register & Bee

A Pittsylvania County supervisor hopes state and federal agencies will look into elevated lead levels at home wells near Coles Hill, where Virginia Uranium Inc. has done exploratory drilling in hopes of one day mining uranium.

Chatham-Blairs Supervisor Hank Davis has proposed a resolution for the Board of Supervisors that would ask the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Virginia Department of Health to investigate higher amounts of lead in home wells in the Sheva area near Coles Hill.

The board will consider the idea at its next regular meeting, April 21 in Chatham.

However, Walter Coles Sr., chairman of Virginia Uranium Inc., which is seeking to mine and mill a uranium deposit at Coles Hill, said exploratory drilling there is not the cause of rising levels.

“We don’t have anything to do with it,” Coles said.

Higher lead levels are upstream of VUI’s operations at Coles Hill, he said.

Uranium mining is banned in Virginia by a 1982 moratorium. The Virginia Coal and Energy Commission’s Uranium Mining Subcommittee is overseeing a study to determine whether mining and milling of uranium can be done safely in the commonwealth.

In late 2007 and 2008, VUI took water samples from about 150 sites at more than 80 residences in a radius of approximately a mile around Coles Hill. Patrick Wales, VUI geologist, told the Danville Register & Bee in March that lead levels in water wary widely through the region.

Davis said he is responding to constituents’ concerns and wants to find out the source of the elevated lead.

“It doesn’t matter whether it’s caused by the uranium,” Davis said. “What’s important is finding what’s causing it and getting those people help.”

At least one resident, Allen Gross, who lives in Sheva about a mile from Coles Hill, said in March that VUI contracted for test and analysis of five water samples on his property from December 2007 to September 2008.

Before drilling began, the first test showed a lead measurement of 2.83 parts per billion. But the last sample taken in September showed a level of 17.9 parts per billion, Gross said.

The maximum safe level of lead in drinking water is 15 parts per billion, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Three creeks separate Coles Hill from his home, which is about a mile southwest of the uranium ore deposit. No water flows from Coles Hill to the Grosses’ property, and there’s no scientific evidence that exploratory drilling affected lead levels, Wales said in March.

Gross said he and his wife, Deborah, no longer use their tap water. They drink, cook and brush their teeth using bottled water, he said.

Dan Richardson, environmental health manager for the Pittsylvania-Danville Health District, said earlier this year he is not sure what caused the elevated lead content. Elevated lead levels can come from the aquifer, pumps, piping or spigots, he said.

Richardson said Wednesday he had test results from some other homeowners, but not enough information to determine what increased the amount of lead.

“I would be cautious about drawing conclusions when I don’t have enough statistical information,” he said.

The Pittsylvania-Danville Health District only requires tests for bacteria levels for residential wells, and doesn’t have the budget to perform tests for minerals, Richardson said.

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