Wednesday, April 22, 2009

[PittCo] Supervisors Ask EPA to Investigate Lead Levels

Contrary to what Henry Hurt says, it is indeed possible that VUI's exploratory drilling has contributed to the well contamination. One only needs a simple understanding of geo-hydrology to see that. And if VUI is so sure it's not hurting anyone's drinking water, then VUI should pay for all well testing as a neighborly gesture, stay out of the way of the investigators, and pay the tab when it's finished. And if it's determined that VUI has in any way caused any water contamination, then VUI, VUL, Santoy, etc. should close up shop and forget the mine as they'll have proof-positive that what they're doing can't be done safely.

By TIM DAVIS/Star-Tribune Editor
Wednesday, April 22, 2009 10:02 AM EDT

The Pittsylvania County Board of Supervisors voted 7-0 Tuesday night to ask the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Virginia Department of Health to investigate high lead levels in wells around the Coles Hill uranium deposit.

Concerns about well testing around the uranium deposit, about six miles northeast of Chatham, were raised at a meeting in March sponsored by the Pittsylvania County Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Virginia Uranium Inc. was required to collect and test water samples at four ponds and four residential wells as part of an exploratory drilling permit from the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy in 2007.

It also was required to monitor 15 locations in surrounding creeks and tributaries for heavy metals.

Although not required by the permit, Virginia Uranium sought permission to test wells at homes within about a mile of the site to determine the general water quality in the vicinity of Coles Hill.

More than 80 wells were voluntarily tested.

Allen Gross, who lives on Motley Road, about a mile from Coles Hill, said when the first test was done in 2007 the lead in his well water was 2.8.

When the last test was done late last year, it had risen to 17.9. The maximum allowed for drinking water is 15.

Gross has been drinking bottled water since January.

In a statement last month, Virginia Uranium said it is not responsible for high lead levels in wells near Coles Hill.

"In response to media reports of concerns over lead levels in some residential wells in the general vicinity of the Coles Hill uranium deposit, we have reviewed the data and can state categorically that our permitted drilling activities have nothing to do with these lead levels," the company said.

"Wells with reported lead levels in the water are all in geologically and hydrologically isolated areas that are unaffected by activities conducted by our company.

"While none of the residential wells are located in a watershed that could be affected by our activities, the simple laws of gravity and hydrology preclude water running uphill - whether in the ground or on the surface - as it would have to do to reach these sites."

Virginia Uranium pointed out that high lead levels may be caused by any number of possibilities, including household plumbing.

Gross has attended the past several supervisors' meetings, and again Tuesday urged the county to investigate well contamination.

"We want to find where it's coming from," he said. "It might not be coming from the test drilling. But it's kind of strange the test samples kept going up while they were drilling."

Phillip Lovelace of Gretna also asked supervisors to look into the issue.

"We've got contaminated wells and a family that hasn't been able to drink the water for two months," he said. "Suppose you were in his shoes living without water. It needs to be looked into and fixed."

Deborah Dix of Blairs said the county should ban uranium mining outright.

"We want our water protected. We want our air protected. We want our land protected," said Dix. "We need an ordinance to protect us."

The resolution to the EPA and health department was proposed by Chatham-Blairs District Supervisor Henry "Hank" Davis Jr.

Tunstall District Supervisor Tim Barber made a substitute motion, however, to ask federal and state officials to test wells throughout the county for lead.

The board's chairman, Westover District Supervisor Coy Harville, Banister District Supervisor William Pritchett and Dan River District Supervisor James Snead supported Barber's motion.

"If you're going to do this, let's be fair to all the citizens and test everyone's wells," said Snead.

Davis, Staunton River District Supervisor Marshall Ecker and Callands-Gretna District Supervisor Fred Ingram also supported the substitute motion.

Virginia Uranium investor and spokesman Henry Hurt repeated the company's position after the meeting.

"It's technically impossible that anything we've done had anything to do with it," Hurt said.

In other action Tuesday night, supervisors:

_ Voted 5-2 to hold a public hearing on May 4 on giving the former Chatham Elementary School building and property to the town of Chatham. Davis and Ingram voted no.

_ Voted 4-3 to give $500 for Miss Danville-Pittsylvania County Lindsay Bowman to compete in the Miss Virginia Pageant in June.

Davis, Ecker, Ingram and Pritchett supported the donation. Harville, Barber and Snead voted against it, but said they would give private donations to the pageant contestant.

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