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thedrifter
08-19-07, 06:33 PM
Water safety scare won’t affect Fallon, base spokesman says
By Gidget Fuentes - gfuentes@militarytimes.com
Posted : August 27, 2007

SAN DIEGO — A federal study determined the likely cause of high levels of Polonium-210 found in water wells near Fallon, Nev., is natural geologic formations in the region. Polonium-210 is a radioactive element and a known carcinogen.

A study by the U.S. Geological Survey concluded that elevated levels of Po-210, as the radioisotope is known, are due to the natural process of decomposition of granite rocks and sediment in the Lahontan Valley, near Naval Air Station Fallon, officials said.

USGS officials released data Aug. 6 from a study of 25 water wells in the rural area around Fallon and Churchill County in western Nevada.

“All indications are that the elevated levels stem entirely from natural geologic causes within the Lahontan Valley,” USGS officials said in an Aug. 3 announcement. The agency was planning to send letters to affected residents in the region.

There was no danger to the drinking water at the air station, where Marine pilots train, NAS Fallon spokesman Zip Upham said.

Navy officials held two meetings with station workers and residents to update them on the study and alleviate concerns, Upham said. About 26 people showed up for the meetings, which included a USGS scientist and Navy radiological health officer.

“People are concerned and interested in monitoring the health of their families,” Upham said Aug. 9. “They want more information and they want to know what the expectations are.”

The air station relies on three aquifers. Neither the surface aquifer, which reaches down to about 35 feet, nor the deeper basalt aquifer, which sits more than 500 feet below the surface, has shown high levels of Po-210.

The basalt aquifer is the main source of water for the air station and the city of Fallon. “We have no issues with our base water supply,” Upham said.

The intermediate aquifer, which sits somewhere between 80 feet and several hundred feet below the surface, has shown higher levels of the radioactive element, he said. Water from the wells affected by the Po-210 should be treated with reverse osmosis filtration — a water filtration method used by many homeowners in the area — before it is used for drinking or cooking, he noted.

Po-210 naturally occurs in the decomposition of uranium in the granite, a process that creates alpha emitters that “have the ability to cause radiation issues,” Upham explained, adding, “We have radiation in the background throughout our environment.”

Tests done in 2005 showed the water supply had low levels of the alpha emitters, a radioactive contaminant — levels far below the federal maximum standard, the study noted.

The USGS study came on the heels of earlier studies that investigated a cancer cluster in the region and found excessive radioactivity in the ground water because of high levels of Po-210.

The announcement by the USGS raised alarms in Nevada about the safety of milk because several dairy farms are located near some of the wells found to be tainted. The main dairies in the region, which supply a local dairy cooperative, dumped their milk following the USGS announcement and ordered new water tests, which came up negative.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration said its tests found the milk to be safe to drink.

Ellie