Meeting with Fermilab's Community Task Force on Public Participation, lab Director Pier Oddone emphasized the importance of transparency in communication in dealing with the discovery of low levels of tritium in water leaving the site. "We are taking it very seriously," Oddone told the Task Force last Wednesday night (Dec. 14). "The seriousness of this kind of issue does not always correlate with the actual health hazard, but with the way the laboratory handles it."
Regular monitoring of Indian Creek in November revealed a low level of tritium, a form of hydrogen with an unstable nucleus. The tritium levels were far lower than the federal standards the lab is required to meet, and posed no health hazards. The discovery marked the first time in 30 years of monitoring that tritium reached detectable levels in surface water.
During the meeting in Wilson Hall, Oddone outlined the lab's immediate and successful efforts to stop tritiated water from entering Indian Creek, which leaves the site at the southwest corner near the Savannah subdivision. Then Oddone turned the meeting over to presentations by Bill Griffing, head of the lab's Environment, Safety and Health section; radiation expert Don Cossairt; and Associate Director for Accelerators Steve Holmes, who heads up the director's task force on water quality.
Holmes described the goal of the director's task force as reaching tritium levels that are as low as reasonably achievable, not just sufficiently low to meet requirements. "That doesn't necessarily mean below detectable levels," Holmes said, "although that could be possible." Holmes also said that tritium had been below detectable levels in Indian Creek since Dec. 6. The director's task force will issue both preliminary and final reports in January.
Judy Jackson, head of Fermilab Public Affairs, described communication efforts, including contact with local, state and federal representatives, and letters hand-delivered to Savannah residents. Community Task Force member Craig Jones said communications had been "handled superbly. They could not have been done any better." Jackson credited policy recommendations formulated by the Community Task Force in December, 2004: "What a difference it made, having the CTF recommendations from a year ago to guide us on the right path. It made a big difference for the laboratory."