New concerns about uranium in Marshfield water

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(Host) There’s new environmental concerns about the uranium found in the Marshfield water supply. State officials are now worried the radioactive material has accumulated in the town’s sewage treatment plant. That could pose problems when the town disposes of the sewage sludge from the plant.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) Two months ago, residents in the Washington County town of Marshfield learned their local water supply contains elevated levels of radioactive uranium. Town officials have supplied bottled water for residents who use the public water system.

The uranium occurs naturally in deep bedrock, but it’s found in the Marshfield water at levels above state health standards. Now the state is concerned that the uranium has built up in the town’s sewage treatment plant. Cathy Jamieson is with the Department of Environmental Conservation

(Jamieson) “Well, we would certainly assume that a portion – and probably a large portion – of the uranium in the water supply is contained in the waste water sludge. Most metals have an affinity to associate with the solids portion of the waste water treatment process. And the solids can then concentrate the metals that are in the waste water.”

(Dillon) Jamieson says the state is testing the sewage sludge to see how much uranium has concentrated in the waste material. Sewage sludge is usually disposed in one of in three ways. It can be spread on farm fields, dried out and put in landfills, or incinerated.

But if the Marshfield sludge is radioactive, disposing of it safely may be a problem.

(Jamieson) “There probably is some sort of exposure at any of the three options. We would want to make sure we’re picking the one that’s appropriate for the concentration that’s found. We will also be consulting the Vermont Health Department in that decision making process.”

(Dillon) According to state documents, environmental officials estimate about seven pounds of uranium may be in the sewage sludge.

The treatment plant needs to be cleaned out every eight to ten years. The state says the sludge will need to be removed in the next year or so.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon.

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