MARTINS FERRY — Testing of Martins Ferry’s raw water shows a radium level below the drinking water limits set by the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, Mayor John Davies said.
Raw water is water that has not yet been treated at the city’s water treatment plant. After the water is treated, it is then considered drinking water.
Davies said lab testing on the raw water sample showed radium-226 at 0.8 picocuries per liter (pCi/L) and radium-228 at 0.679 pCi/L.
Combined, these raw water measurements total 1.479 pCi/L — well below the maximum contaminant level for radium in treated drinking water, which is 5 pCi/L, according to the Ohio EPA.
The city had its treated water tested as well. For radium-226 the level was 0.552 pCi/L, and for radium-228 the level was 0.631 pCi/L, totaling 1.183pCi/L for combined radium.
Davies had the water tested in an effort to allay concerns voiced by members of the Concerned Ohio River Residents. Group members in the past few weeks have said they believe the city’s aquifer is in danger of being harmed by radioactive contaminants, such as radium, they believe are potentially coming from the nearby Austin Master Services frack waste processing facility.
They cited past instances of the facility receiving citations from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources for not containing the waste properly inside the facility. They are also concerned about the facility getting flooded or having a fire.
Davies said city officials are planning to have a public meeting with members of CORR at 4 p.m. Thursday in council chambers, located on the second floor of the city building on Fifth Street.
CORR recently sent a letter to Davies, City Council and Law Director Paul Stecker claiming Austin Master Services is in violation of the city’s Source Water Protection Area ordinance that was approved by council in 2007. The facility opened in the city years after the adoption of that ordinance.
Davies, who was not mayor at the time when Austin Master Services opened, said he did not know if City Council granted the company a variance to operate in the Source Water Protection Area. He added, however, that he could not imagine the Ohio EPA would grant the company permits to operate there if it was not allowed to do so.
“I can’t picture them awarding a permit if it was not legal,” he said.
Davies added that the city is doing its “due diligence,” though, to protect its well fields and its water treatment plant.
He noted the city has reached out to Austin Master Services with questions regarding its emergency plans. The city plans to make sure the facility is operating within the scope of the Source Water Protection Area’s rules, he added.
The Source Water Protection Area calls for protecting the city’s drinking water source by preventing contamination of its wellfields, including groundwater, within a one-year and five-year protection area. The ordinance allows the city to deny the construction of any business or plant that may threaten the safety of the well field or groundwater. The city’s water treatment plant and well fields are located along the bank of the Ohio River.
CORR believes there are several parts of the ordinance that the facility appears to be in violation of regarding the Drinking Water Potential Impact Zone, or Zone 2.
“Chapter 1155 also states that, ‘Any facility involving the collection, handling, manufacture, use, storage, transfer or disposal of any solid or liquid material or wastes, unless granted a special exception either through permit or another ordinance, must have a secondary containment system which is easily inspected and whose purpose is to intercept any leak or release from the primary containment vessel or structure. Underground tanks or buried pipes carrying such materials must have double walls and inspectable sumps.’ Austin Masters does not have secondary containment — they store the waste directly on the floor,” according to the letter from CORR to the city.
The group also notes another portion of the ordinance calls for facilities to store petroleum products exceeding 100 gallons in an elevated tank or tanks, and that the tanks must have a secondary containment system.
“Austin Masters has liquids stored in the building that are not in elevated tanks. We can show you images of the inside from (Ohio Department of Natural Resources) inspection reports as examples of these apparent violations listed here. … We’ll also share the most recent ODNR inspection reports from June 2021. They do not look like the images of the facility the mayor gave us on Sept. 1, which did not have a date and time stamp. The images look much worse,” CORR adds.
The group also provided a link to the “Drinking Water Source Assessment for Martins Ferry” created in 2003 by the Ohio Department of Environmental Protection.
“Martins Ferry’s wells have a high susceptibility to contamination due to a few things, including a shallow aquifer,” CORR states.
Austin Master Services spokesman Christopher Martin reacted to news of CORR’s letter with the following statement provided to The Times Leader:
“We are disappointed that the Concerned Ohio River Residents have been using the media to address these issues and have yet to verify their statements. We are dedicated to presenting the facts in a clear and transparent manner so that our neighbors and leaders are not misled by false information presented as ‘facts,’” Martin said.
“Austin Master Services takes these allegations very seriously and works very hard to ensure the safety of our team, our customers, and the community. We have a very strong relationship with ODNR and work in conjunction with their recommended action items. We also have a strong working relationship with the city of Martins Ferry.”
Martin declined to elaborate on which statements by CORR he believes are not factual.
Ray Canter, a Martins Ferry resident who recently joined the CORR group, said he is concerned about the potential impact the Austin Master Services facility could have on the health of the community. He wants the city to learn more.
“I’d like to see them get a plan of action from Austin Masters company in case of any disaster. I think they need to be monitored better. I don’t think we have anyone in town with the ability to do it the right way,” Canter said, referring to city officials.
Canter added if the facility is in violation of the city’s Source Water Protection Area he believes it should be shut down. He also believes the city should be checking the property for potential building codes violations like it does on residential properties.
“I’m not trying to make trouble or make people lose their jobs, I just think it’s a hazard to people’s lives. … Maybe people are getting sick and not knowing why,” Canter said.
CORR representatives, including Bridgeport resident Beverly Reed, have expressed concern in the past about potential radioactive dust leaving the facility from open doors, or trucks driving through contaminated water and then out onto public streets.