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By DAMON LAWRENCE
Three weeks after the disaster at TVA’s Kingston Fossil Plant, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency handed over the job of lead federal agency to TVA.
The EPA-to-TVA transition came just days after an EPA on-scene coordinator expressed concerns about a radiation report that was generated during the agency’s response to the disaster.
How significant those concerns may be has yet to be established.
The EPA was dispatched to Roane County on Dec. 22, 2008, just hours after a dike failure at the fossil plant released 5.4 million cubic yards of toxic fly ash into the Emory River and onto adjacent lands.
Tetra Tech, EPA’s Superfund Technical Assessment and Response Team contractor, also went to the site with the agency.
What Tetra Tech saw and did was jotted down in a series of field notes. The acronyms have been replaced in this story for clarity.
“On-scene coordinator Spurlin tasks Superfund Technical Assessment and Response Team (Paul) Prys with writing short radiation survey report based on data collected by Superfund Technical Assessment and Response Team Prys and on-scene coordinator (David) Dorian,” an entry states.
The radiation report apparently generated a buzz within the agency.
“On-scene coordinator Dorian was concerned with the reading on top of the dredge cell,” another entry states. “On-scene coordinator Dorian requested Superfund Technical Assessment and Response Team Prys to take two more readings of the ash in areas where workers are exposed to disturbed ash.”
Prys, a Superfund Technical Assessment and Response Team project manager with Tetra Tech, was asked about the radiation report, but Prys said he’s not allowed to comment without EPA permission.
“Any questions that you need answered needs to go through them,” he said. “I’m not allowed to make comments without their authorization.”
He had a similar response when asked if people here should have concerns about being exposed to radiation.
“Once again, I cannot comment on any of this,” Prys said.
Dorian, an on-scene coordinator with the EPA, didn’t respond to phone or e-mail messages.
Dawn Harris-Young, a media specialist in EPA’s Office of External Affairs, was asked about the radiation concerns on Monday, and said she needed time to look into the matter.
On Thursday, Harris-Young said a staffer who could provide information about the radiation reports wouldn’t be available until Friday, after Roane County News’ deadline.
“We’ll be able to answer your questions,” Harris-Young said. “It’s just about getting the right people on the phone.”
Roane County emergency management director Howie Rose said his office took radiation readings following the disaster. Rose said the readings didn’t show anything out of the ordinary, but the equipment they used is not as sophisticated as what might be found in a laboratory.
“Our instrumentation tells us if there is an immediate threat,” Rose said. “It’s not the kind of instrumentation that would tell us, ‘Well, if you lived here for 20 years you might have an increased risk of cancer.’”
The field notes provide a behind-the-scenes summary of what Tetra Tech workers heard and witnessed during the cleanup.
“Overheard conversation that 12 truck loads an hour, 12 hours a day for five years to cleanup completely,” one entry states. “Opposition to conversation was to make soccer fields out of it.”
An entry also made reference to a water tank being installed for employees to wash hands and boots to control ash from being tracked home.
The disaster destroyed homes and damaged property.
Another entry said residents wanted trash and dead fish removed from their properties. Others made references to visits by Gov. Phil Bredesen and U.S. Rep. Lincoln Davis.
Once EPA handed the reins over to TVA on Jan. 11, all remaining EPA personnel and equipment were withdrawn from the site, according to a timeline of the agency’s response.
TVA spokesman Gil Francis said EPA now has only a supervisory role in the on-going cleanup efforts.