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Radioactive nuclear waste burial ground in Pittsburgh area to be cleaned up by federal government

Radioactive nuclear waste burial ground in Pennsylvania to be cleaned up
Radioactive nuclear waste burial ground in Pennsylvania to be cleaned up 03:58

KISKIMERE, Pa. (KDKA) — An untold number of 55-gallon drums containing radioactive waste are buried in shallow trenches on a 144-acre site in Armstrong County.

They pose a health and safety danger to those who live nearby. But now after decades of lawsuits and public outcry, the federal government is getting ready to finally clean it up.

Debbie Secreto has lived next to the contaminated field in Parks Township all of her life. She played on it as a kid, unaware of the hidden danger. She was diagnosed with breast cancer at 44 years old.

There are 10 shallow trenches filled with haphazardly disposed of radioactive nuclear waste. Though she and other cancer survivors won a class action settlement years ago, she's remained in her childhood home.

"It's hard living like this, but what are you going to do? Move? I don't want to move. I'm 71 years old," Secreto of Kiskimere said.

In the 1950s and 1960s, the company MUMEC in nearby Apollo produced nuclear fuels for power plants and nuclear submarines and buried the waste in Parks Township. Now, after decades of fighting for it, neighbors like Secreto have won another major victory.

The United States government is finally taking action, now building the needed infrastructure to commence a six-year, $500-million project to excavate all of that nuclear waste to decontaminate and clean the entire 144-acre site.

Beginning next year, contractors for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will begin the slow and methodical process of excavating an estimated 30,000 cubic yards of contaminated waste. They will unearth a little bit at a time, scanning it with X-rays and radiation detectors before encapsulating it in steel containers. 

The waste will then be trucked and shipped by rail to a disposal site in Utah, where it will be permanently buried deep underground.

But while happy the waste is going elsewhere, neighbors are concerned the unearthing could spark a nuclear event, releasing toxins into the air and water.

"Everybody up here is worried about it. It's going to be dangerous," said Karen Brenner of Kiskimere.

"I can promise that we are committed to protecting the health and welfare of the community and the environment," said Steven Vriesen, project manager for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. 

In participating in reports like this, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said it is committed to transparency with the public and will be holding meetings to assure the community every safeguard to safely remove the waste will be taken.

"We have multiple layers of safety," said David Romano, deputy district engineer. "From air monitors on the workers that are right on the site, groundwater monitoring, surface water monitoring, air monitors around the perimeter, all to ensure our actions ensure the health and safety of our environment."

If all goes well, this six-year project will restore the site and make this Armstrong County community a safe place to live again.

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