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Project aims to educate Burke County residents on radiological monitoring

Posted: August 8, 2017 - 11:43pm
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Megan Winzeler of Savannah River Ecology Laboratory explains the scientific method and how it is used to test theories and draw conclusions from data during a community education meeting Monday at Burke County Library. TOM CORWIN/STAFF
Megan Winzeler of Savannah River Ecology Laboratory explains the scientific method and how it is used to test theories and draw conclusions from data during a community education meeting Monday at Burke County Library. TOM CORWIN/STAFF

WAYNESBORO, Ga. - Anne Pitcher's family has been in the area since the 18th century, but now she is wondering what is happening in the land around her.

"I am concerned," she said at a recent educational meeting at Burke County Library. "I want to know what is going on."

A new project at Savannah River Ecology Laboratory aims to help her and other citizens in Burke County better understand the radiological monitoring being done and to read and understand the reports.

The Radiological Education Monitoring and Outreach Project held its first community education meeting Monday, but is looking to hold monthly meetings and make presentations to civic and community groups.

The Department of Energy once paid the Geor­gia Environmental Pro­tec­tion Division to do monitoring on the Georgia side from the Savannah River Site, but decided in 2002 that the testing was redundant because it also was done on the South Carolina side, said Megan Winzeler, the project coordinator for SREL.

Local nonprofits lobbied the SRS Citizens Advisory Board to look into the adequacy of current monitoring and an independent review decided it was, but did find that education was lacking about monitoring and the kinds of things being monitored , she said.

The new project, supported by activist group Atlanta-based Georgia Women's Action Network, aims to remedy that. It should help people understand arcane-sounding terms like "millicuries" or "bioaccumulation" and how they can be important, Winzeler said. It is also to help them understand and take into account things like background radiation and how that would influence the data.

"It's hard to explain that everything is not zero when you go measure it," she said.

It will also help broaden their awareness of what it is important to monitor, Winezler said.

"Heavy metals are also something we should talk about," she said.

The project, at some point, will collect its own samples and invite the public to suggest things that should be sampled, but it will not be the hundreds of samples that would rise to the level of regulatory monitoring, Winzeler said.

Lillie Wilson said her family has been fishing in Brier Creek for years, but the fish they catch now are covered in slime.

"Just check the water," she said. "That's all I'm asking."

Even if it is not for environmental monitoring, it should help increase the understanding of how that monitoring works, Winzeler said. The project's ultimate goal is to help people "look at data reports and come to their own conclusions," she said.

It would be helpful for most people to know how to read a long, technical report, said Suzanne Sharkey.

Pitcher, who has family in the Shell Bluff area, said they have had concerns for years about what might be going on in the area.

"We've had a lot of cancers in our family," she said. "It's been unreal."

 

Reach Tom Corwin at (706) 823-3213 or tom.corwin@augustachronicle.com.

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