WASHINGTON Groundwater contamination at the old Cimarron Corp. plant near Crescent, where plutonium fuel rods once were fabricated, is up to 400 times higher than federal drinking-water standards allow, a congressional panel was told Thursday.
The samples collected a year ago show greater contamination than ones taken from 1985-87, when contamination levels were 208 to 360 times higher than permitted by the Environmental Protection Agency.
The site, discussed in a new report issued by the General Accounting Office, is where the firm once buried radioactive waste generated by plutonium and uranium fuel operations. Cimarron, a subsidiary of Kerr-McGee Corp., closed the plant in 1975, about a year after employee Karen Silkwood contended she had been contaminated while on the job.
Additionally, a House Government Operations subcommittee chaired by Rep. Mike Synar said a Cushing refinery once owned by Kerr-McGee is being considered by EPA as a candidate for inclusion on the federal Superfund list because of possible radiation contamination.
However, possible EPA action was news to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission until they were informed by Synar's staff.
Synar, D-Muskogee, cited a July 1966 letter in which the commission's predecessor, the Atomic Energy Commission, concluded that no hazards existed at the Cushing refinery because of insignificant levels of contamination.
But Synar said Kerr-McGee voluntarily returned three times after the refinery was closed for cleanup work.
"How could you all have missed so much contamination?" Synar asked.
"I don't know how much it was," said Kenneth M. Carr, regulatory commission chairman.
Synar: "Well, it was enough for them to go out three times and now become a Superfund site. ..."
Carr: "Well, I still don't think it became a Superfund site on account of the contamination."
Synar: "You agree it was part of it?"
Carr: "And I agree, and we are going to go out to take a look at it."
Carr's staff said EPA officials told them that it is contamination of what was described as organic material and not radiation that made it a candidate for the Superfund program, in which federal funds are used to clean up waste sites.
Annita Bridges, a Kerr-McGee spokeswoman, said company officials had not had a chance to review the General Accounting Office report and thus wouldn't comment. However, "we think Kerr-McGee has acted responsibly in all matters discussed by the subcommittee," Bridges said.
The Cushing refinery was closed in 1972. Besides refining of petroleum products, the company processed uranium and thorium at Cushing from 1963-66, Bridges said.
The Kerr-McGee issues were discussed at an oversight hearing Synar held on decontamination of nuclear-related facilities. BIOG: NAME:Archive ID: 396188