A sample provided from a scaled-down version of Castle Rock’s Plum Creek water treatment facility, which remains under construction, disclosed that waste product created in the treatment process at the plant could contain radium residuals beyond the state’s acceptable levels.
The Colorado Department of Health and Environment notified the town’s utilities department that it must come up with a plan to manage the treatment residuals that will likely contain radioactive materials concentrated by treatment at the plant before March 2013, when the plant is fully operational, said Mark Salley, communications director for the state department.
The plant is not creating any residuals at this time because it is still under construction and not operational, Salley said.
The department’s radioactive materials unit provides guidance to facilities where there is a potential for an elevated radioactive material concentration, said Jennifer Opila, radioactive materials unit leader.
Opila’s group has provided guidance at 12 facilities in the last two years across Colorado.
The department points out that uranium and radium are natural components of Colorado’s geology and will dissolve out of soils and into the state’s water, resulting in elevated levels of radionuclides in groundwater.
The treatment process in a water treatment plant removes those contaminants and, when the radium residual levels exceed the state standard, the department’s goal is to ensure the safe removal of the resulting waste, or sludge, without bringing harm to anyone who comes in contact with the residuals, Opila said.
While the levels the state expects to see at the Plum Creek facility do not pose an acute hazard, safety measures at comparable levels would include protective gear such as safety gloves, shoe covering and full clothing covering, she said.
“Basic protective gear would be handling it with gloves to protect it from coming in contact with your skin,” Opila said.
“At these levels, to be protected they would need to be gloved, booties, they don’t want to walk in it, (you don’t want to) get it on your clothes.”
The issue came to light in early September after town attorney Bob Slentz asked town council for permission to hire a special counsel for help with a permitting issue at the treatment plant. The town aims to apply for a variance from the state to allow the discharge of water treatment residuals containing radium into the sanitary sewer, Slentz said.
This will be the first time the department of health and environment has entertained such a variance application, and Slentz recommended an environmental attorney to help the town navigate the regulatory process, he said.