By Mary Robb Jackson
KISKIMERE (KDKA) — The village of Kiskimere, an old coal company town, is an eye-blink on the map of Armstrong County, but in 1961 what used to be a cornfield became the Nuclear Materials and Equipment Corp.
They began sowing bags of radioactive waste on the property.
“No one knew when we were growing up what was out there,” Teresita Kolenchak who was raised across the road from the site, said.
The plant closed in 2002. Now, the Army Corps of Engineers has to clean up 10 trenches at what’s called the Shallow Land Disposal Area, containing mainly uranium and some plutonium.
“There’s approximately 30,000 to 40,000 cubic feet of waste on the site,” according to Army Corps of Engineers Project Manager Bill Lenart.
That much material adds up to a football field piled more than 20-feet high with radioactive waste.
“It could be leaking into the groundwater. It could be leaking down into the mines,” Kolenchak said.
Next week, the federal Environmental Protection Agency plans to test local well water along Kiskimere Road where about 50 families live. The Army Corps’ initial testing found it to be safe.
“So there’s really not a concern that their wells are contaminated with any type of radioactive waste,” Lenart said.
“We’ve had a lot of people who’ve suffered a lot from this,” Kolenchak said.
Over the years, increased cases of cancer have been documented here.
“I can understand why they’re concerned,” says Lenart.
Once removed and processed, the waste will be transported to Utah. The Army Corps hopes to begin excavating this June, but doing it safely will take time.
“We’re thinking it’s going to take anywhere from eight to 10 years,” Lenart said.
Gazing over at the site Kolenchak says, “I’d like to see them take care of this disposal properly to safeguard us that are left up here and to safeguard the future.”
The Army Corps of Engineers plans to hold a public meeting on May 12 at the Parks Township Volunteer Fire Department.