Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Official: Lead levels in water not linked to uranium drilling

By John Crane

Published: July 7, 2009

A Sheva man saw the lead level in his home well water supply surge when Virginia Uranium Inc. performed exploratory drilling last year.

Since those holes were sealed, the lead content in Allen Gross’s well water has dropped below unsafe levels.

But an official with the Virginia Department of Health — which took the latest water samples on Gross’s property last month — says any lead issues he had reflect a problem in his plumbing system.

“Our interpretation is the source of the lead is not the source water,” said Dr. Charles Devine, health director for the state health department’s Pittsylvania-Danville Health District.

Gross, who lives in Sheva about a mile from Coles Hill, said his plumbing consists of a three-year-old plastic system and is not the source of the problem. Gross said water tests conducted in Goliad County, Texas, where uranium exploration was being performed, showed similar results.

VUI, which seeks to mine and mill a 119-million-pound uranium deposit at Coles Hill about six miles northeast of Chatham, contracted privately for test and analysis of water samples at Gross’s home and on other properties from December 2007 to September 2008.

Before exploratory 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.

Devine said the sampling technique can influence test results. The first sample on Dec. 21, 2007, was taken at Gross’s property after the system was flushed of contaminants, resulting in lower levels, while later samples showing higher lead were taken “pre-flush,” Devine said. In addition, no water tests for contaminants were conducted at Gross’s property before December 2007.

The state health department took its latest two samples on June 24 after the Pittsylvania County Board of Supervisors asked the agency and the Department of Environmental Quality to look into elevated lead levels in home wells near Coles Hill.

The first test of Gross’s water, taken before it was flushed of contaminants, showed a level of .008 milli-grams per liter of water. The second sample, taken post-flush, found lead below detectable limits, Devine said. A measurement of .015 milligrams per liter or above is considered “action-level,” meaning that if 10 percent or more of tap-water samples exceed that amount, then public water systems must take additional steps to lower the contaminant level, Devine said.

Devine said Gross’s home was the only one sampled by the state last month because it was the only property that reported increased lead levels.

Patrick Wales, VUI geologist and spokesman, said the health department’s latest findings show that there is no connection between VUI’s activities and Gross’s lead levels. Gross’s property is located across two topographical features “precluding water flow in his direction,” Wales said.

Gross said he and his wife, Deborah, did not consume their tap water from December 2008 until last month, when they found out lead levels has decreased.


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