“Two state regulatory agencies had information late last year that strontium 90 was showing up in a monitoring well at the Indian Point nuclear plant — three months before they released news of the isotope’s presence to the public this week.
A Dec. 5 e-mail between officials at the Department of Health and the Department of Environmental Conservation reported test results showing the radioactive material about 100 yards from the Hudson River. The memo was obtained by the environmental group Riverkeeper through the Freedom of Information Act.
Riverkeeper officials said the low levels of nuclear pollution were less of a concern than the lack of public disclosure by the agencies responsible for protecting the health and safety of local residents.
“If they knew strontium 90 was in one well three months ago, why haven’t they tested all the wells for strontium?” asked Lisa Rainwater van Suntum, Riverkeeper’s Indian Point campaign director. “Have they also been testing for cesium and cobalt, which showed up when the leak was first discovered? It seems like this is a haphazard game that they’re playing in terms of keeping the public informed.”
State Health Department spokeswoman Claire Pospisill had initially said the results showing the nuclear contamination were not available until late last week.
But yesterday, after reviewing a copy of the interagency e-mail, Pospisill said her agency had received results in December, but decided not to release them without further study.
“It was preliminary data,” she said. “We had to confirm it, and we did.”
DEC spokeswoman Gabrielle DeMarco also said the December results were too preliminary to release at the time.
The concentrations of strontium 90 found at the site are about a third of what is allowed in drinking water.
Pospisill said state health officials are testing more wells for strontium 90, but results aren’t complete yet. The agency hasn’t found any cobalt or cesium, she said.
Federal and local elected officials say they have little patience for any of the explanations.
“I have repeatedly called for Indian Point to close,” said Rep. Eliot Engel, D-Bronx. “Unfortunately, since it remains open, we must continue to call for strict measures for maintaining it as a safe facility — one that is not contaminating our water nor risking our health.”
The controversy started Monday, when Indian Point officials released test results showing that a less-dangerous radioactive material, tritium, was likely making its way into the Hudson River and had been found in test wells within 150 feet of the river’s banks.
State health officials also said that strontium 90 had shown up in one well about 300 feet from the river.
Strontium 90 is a byproduct of nuclear fission in weapons and reactors and is considered a more powerful radioactive isotope than tritium.
Westchester County Executive Andrew Spano is now calling for a meeting on Monday with representatives of the state’s Health Department and DEC, the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission and Entergy Nuclear Northeast, the plant’s operators.
“We just want answers — how dangerous it is, if it affects the water system,” Spano said. “We were a little blindsided by this. I had my Health Department stay in constant contact with the state Health Department after the leak was discovered. Their story is that there were traces (of strontium 90) and they didn’t want to do anything until they had studied it and got it all straight.”
Spano said keeping such important information from the local officials ends up creating problems with the public’s trust.
“It’s a constant problem. We think their perspective is poor and their judgment is poor,” Spano said of state and federal officials who don’t routinely share information with their local counterparts. “They have no concept of public reaction and the responsibility to the public.”
Rockland County Executive C. Scott Vanderhoef said the lack of notice was “remarkable.”
“I don’t even have a clue as to what the justification could have been for it not to be put in the public domain,” Vanderhoef said.
Rockland emergency officials said they had not heard any discussion of the presence of strontium 90 in the biweekly meetings of the agencies responsible for Indian Point safety.
Spano said the Westchester County Health Department also didn’t know about the radioactive isotope.
Indian Point officials have said they didn’t know there was strontium 90 underground until they were told by the state Health Department on Monday.
Spano said he wants to hear from Indian Point’s hydrologists about the test wells and the potential paths of the radioactive water.
“More must be done to determine where the radioactive water is coming from, and the fuel pools must be checked further for leaks,” Spano said. “I want all the wells tested for strontium 90 and tritium.””
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