BY RICH JONES
ASSISTANT MANAGING EDITOR
Representatives of a Greeneville law firm and two other firms from other states will be in Erwin on Wednesday to meet in two sessions with area residents who may have questions regarding possible nuclear contamination lawsuits.
The meetings are scheduled to be held at 1 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday, March 16, at the Masonic Lodge at Unicoi, located south of Mountain Commerce Bank on Unicoi Drive.
Refreshments will be served, according to information provided by the law firms.
Plans call for the two sessions to be very similar although they are being held at different times in order to accommodate the convenience of members of the public.
Greeneville's Rogers, Laughlin, Nunnally, Hood & Crum, P.C., will be joined at the forum by Napoli Bern Ripka & Associates LLP, of New York City, and Motley Rice LLC, with offices in Providence, R.I.
The Napoli Bern Ripka & Associates firm has achieved more than $800 million in settlements for its clients related to injuries sustained by rescue and recovery workers at the World Trade Center Site -- "Ground Zero" for the Sept 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
Marc J. Bern, a founding and senior partner of the firm, is listed in the advertisement as representing his firm at the event on Wednesday.
Motley Rice LLC will be represented by attorneys Jonathan D. Orent and Fidelma L. Fitzpatrick, who have experience in cases involving contamination of groundwater and soil, and lead poisoning.
An advertisement appearing in today's issue of The Greeneville Sun states that the firms "will address questions or concerns that area residents may have involving potential nuclear contamination lawsuits, radiation contamination, related medical issues and the legal options of those who may have been affected."
The advertisement also states that, "our goal is to empower residents and facilitate an open educational forum for discussion."
All area residents are invited to attend, the advertisement states.
John T. Milburn Rogers is the attorney responsible for the advertisement.
According to the advertisement, Rogers' firm is working along with Napoli Bern Rika & Associates LLP and Motley Rice LLC, "to represent individuals in the Erwin area who may have suffered damages due to the operations of the Nuclear Fuel Services facility owned by Babcock & Wilcox and its subsidiaries."
PARK OVERALL TO SPEAK
Greeneville resident Park Overall, an actress and environmental activist, is scheduled to be a guest speaker at the forum.
"I'll be introducing the attorneys," Overall said on Friday.
Overall, who owns property along the Nolichucky River in Greene County, also said that she would be attending the event "as a potential client."
"If you have property on the river, or around the [NFS] plant, you might want to show up to find some answers to your concerns about health or property," Overall said.
Located in Erwin, Nuclear Fuel Services (NFS) operates a uranium fuel materials production facility that is the sole supplier to the U.S. fleet of nuclear-powered submarines and aircraft carriers.
It also converts Cold War-era government stockpiles of highly-enriched uranium into material suitable for further processing into commercial nuclear reactor fuel.
The NFS plant in Erwin is located near the banks of the Nolichucky River some 28 miles upstream from Greeneville.
Controversy arose during the past year over NFS operations and the release of preliminary results of an independent study that a spokesman said indicated the presence of uranium in the Nolichucky River downstream from the Erwin plant.
The findings were based on water and soil samples collected on the Nolichucky River, including two samples in Greene County, according to Hartwell Carson, of the Western North Carolina Alliance, an environmental group.
The samples, he said, "exhibit an enriched uranium signature, indicating the presence of contamination."
The preliminary results of the study, which was conducted by personnel from Northern Arizona University, were announced at a Nuclear Regulatory Commission hearing in October 2010.
Carson said the contaminated sediment samples containing enriched uranium were gathered by him beginning in the summer of 2010 at Davy Crockett Lake, just east of the Oscar B. Lovette Bridge over the Nolichucky River in southern Greene County, and at an additional location several kilometers downstream from the Davy Crockett Dam, located at the b ridge.
The study of the samples collected by Carson was conducted by a research team led by Prof. Michael E. Ketterer of the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at Northern Arizona University.
According to the study, a plume of contaminated groundwater present under the NFS facility in Erwin is migrating off-site and is mixing with the hydrosphere, "in particular, the Nolichucky River, which is used as the drinking water supply for downstream communities."
The Nolichucky is the source of water for Greeneville, and by extension, for all local utility districts that contract with Greeneville for their water.
The water samples collected at the two Greene County locations exhibited an "enriched uranium signature, namely Uranium 235 and Uranium 238 atom ratios in excess of the naturally occurring value," the study reported.
WATER SUPT. STATEMENT
As a follow-up to the presentation of the study, The Greeneville Sun asked Greeneville Water Commission Supt. Laura White for comment.
White responded in a lengthy statement including these points:
"In regard to the interim report presented by Northern Arizona University we would like to convey our concerns:
"It is stated that, 'A study is currently being conducted to determine uranium "signatures" in environmental media (water, soil, aquatic sediments and biota) near the NFS facility in Erwin.'
"Mr. Ketterer goes on to say that the results of the report are demonstrative and do not necessarily reflect a complete set of all results that have been obtained to date.
"The report emphasizes these ratios as 'signatures' of the presence of uranium.
"What the reader must understand is that when the results of the data are presented, the figures shown are ratios and not the actual amount of uranium in water.
"Mr. Ketterer stated that the sample range for the samples taken was from one to two ug/l, or parts per billion.
"EPA (the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency) has set an MCL (maximum containment limit) for the presence of uranium at 30 ug/L. It is to be expected that uranium occurs naturally at 1-2 ug/l.
"To determine if you have uranium in water a screening for gross alpha or overall radioactivity is conducted.
"Currently, TDEC's (Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation) Division of Radiological Health conducts monthly gross alpha testing.
"If 5 pCi/L (picocuries per liter) or less is found, the general consensus is no further testing is needed. If more than 5 but less than 15 pCi/L is found, then the water system should test for Radium 226 and Radium 228.
"If more than 15 pCi/L is found, then testing should be done for uranium, Radium 226 and Radium 228.
"During the last two years, the average gross alpha was 0.75 pCi/L which indicates that no further testing should be completed.
"We currently do not have any treatment processes in place at our water treatment plant that are designed to take out uranium because we have never had any 'hits' of any radiological contaminant in our water."