Well water near nuclear plant safe to drink, DHEC declares

Wells around the Catawba Nuclear Station are safe to drink from, the state Department of Health and Environmental Control announced Friday after testing for tritium in area wells.

DHEC will hold a community meeting at 7 p.m. Dec. 6 at Crowders Creek Middle School to discuss the results of the tests with residents.

Concerns about the safety of the water surfaced in mid-October after a test well at the Duke Energy-owned facility on Lake Wylie showed an elevated amount of tritium, a radioactive form of hydrogen that's also a byproduct of nuclear reaction. Tritium emits a weak form of radiation that could increase the risk of cancer or cause birth defects if consumed in large quantities. Some experts have said tritium can be used to foreshadow the eventual flow of more toxic radioactive materials in groundwater.

The contaminated test well at the plant was not used for drinking water and was about a half-mile inside the facility's property.

As a safety precaution, DHEC tested 25 nearby residential wells. Of those, 24 showed no tritium at all, according to a press release. One registered 348 picocuries of tritium per liter, which is below the Environmental Protection Agency's safe drinking water standard of 20,000 picocuries per liter of water. That well will be tested again, the release stated.

"This tells us that people living near the plant have not been drinking water contaminated with unsafe levels of tritium," said Patrick Walker, chief of DHEC's Bureau of Land and Waste Management in the release. "We hope these results will help answer concerns residents might have."

Two wells at the Catawba Nuclear Station also were tested, and one registered 319 picocuries of tritium per liter.

Investigation continues

Duke Energy is still investigating the source of the elevated tritium -- at the time, it was 42,335 picocuries per liter of water -- by inspecting trenches, pipes and other areas, said Valerie Patterson, company spokeswoman.

"We continue to monitor the well where the elevated tritium level was found and surrounding wells," Patterson said.

The company also has drilled more wells near the contaminated area for monitoring.