State of Nevada
Division of Environmental Protection (NDEP)
Office of the Administrator
Legislative Hearing -- Fallon Leukemia Cluster
February 12, 2001
Allen Biaggi, Administrator
Nevada Division of Environmental Protection
The Testimony was given to the Nevada Legislative Committee
Assembly Natural Resources, Agriculture, and Mining
My name is Allen Biaggi and I am the Administrator of the Nevada Division of Environmental Protection (NDEP). With me today are Verne Rosse, deputy Administrator and Paul Liebendorfer, Chief, Bureau of Federal Facilities.
The Mission of the Nevada Division of Environmental Protection is to protect and enhance the environment of the State consistent with public health and enjoyment and the propagation and protection of terrestrial and aquatic life. To accomplish this mission we have a number of regulatory programs related to water and air quality and the management of solid and hazardous wastes and highly hazardous materials.
I have been asked to speak to you today and discuss some of the activities we are currently undertaking in the Fallon area and address some specific sites that may have an impact to environmental quality in the Fallon area. I have provided a handout (attached) and I will refer to it throughout our discussions today.
Water Quality Issues
State and federal laws require that permits be obtained by individuals or firms that discharge pollutants to water bodies. The federal Clean Water Act regulates discharges to surface waters such as the Carson River system. The State of Nevada has been delegated the authority to operate this program by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Discharge to ground waters are regulated by State law under the Nevada Water Pollution Control requirements.
From these authorities, NDEP issues permits which limits the types and amount of pollutants that enter Nevada's waters. To ensure compliance with the permits the permittee is required to submit compliance data on a periodic basis, usually quarterly, which includes the chemical composition of any discharge and status information on pollution control equipment. The agency also conducts periodic inspections to verify compliance and undertakes enforcement actions when needed to ensure permit compliance.
On the first page of your handout, there are eight tables (see above) outlining caseload statistics for NDEP in the Fallon/Churchill County area. The first table categorizes water pollution control permits by type.
Waste Management issues
Under state and federal waste management provisions, the Division regulates solid waste management (landfills), the generation and management of hazardous wastes, and the oversight of facilities using highly hazardous materials.
The next three tables in the referenced handout provide status information for these programs in the Fallon/Churchill County area.
Hazardous waste registration.
Any facility that generates a hazardous waste is required to manage it in accordance with the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act or RCRA. Like Water Pollution, Nevada is delegated operation of RCRA in Nevada in lieu of EPA. Waste generators are categorized and regulated by the volume of waste generated on a yearly basis. This places specific conditions on the time and volumes waste may be stored on site until it is removed to an approved hazardous waste treatment or disposal facility.
In the Fallon Churchill County area we are regulating:
The US Environmental Protection Agency does require businesses report information on chemicals released to the environment under its Toxic Release Inventory. Under these requirements, the term "release" is very broad and includes permitted emissions and discharges under local, state or federal environmental permits. Facilities are also required to report waste management activities that occur on site or transfers of waste off site to a permitted landfill or treatment facility. For the Fallon area, only two companies at three facilities are subject to reporting under TRI. One is below reportable quantities (less than 500 lbs.) The other facility has had overall reductions in reported releases since 1994. The reported quantities from these facilities are a very small fraction of total amount reported for the State of Nevada.
With regard to solid waste landfills, Churchill County, at one time, had 16 solid waste landfills. In the late 1980s and early 1990s state and federal regulations were modified to provide more environmentally protective siting criteria and management. As a result, in Nevada and nationwide, landfills were closed and consolidated in accordance with state and federal closure requirements. As a result, only one solid waste landfill is currently active in Churchill County
The Chemical Accident Prevention Program was originally developed as a result of catastrophic industrial accidents in Southern Nevada and modified as a result of the Sierra Chemical explosion in Sparks. This program evaluates the processes and procedures of companies handling highly hazardous materials to reduce the likelihood of an accident to the greatest extent possible.
In the Fallon/Churchill County area, this program regulates four facilities which is 10% of the sites in Nevada. Of these four sites, three are geothermal power generating operations and one is a plating operation.
Air Quality Issues
Like Water Pollution Control, the air quality program issues permits to control the amounts and types of contaminants entering our air. Nevada's program is modeled after the federal Clean Air Act and delegation given to the state to operate the program. Like water pollution, compliance is critical. We have a strong inspection and enforcement program to ensure permits are complied with.
In the Fallon Churchill County area the Division maintains:
Often, spills and releases occur as a result of transportation accidents, underground tank releases or other incidents. To protect public health and the environment, the Division has a program for the clean up of environmental contamination of soil and water. Historically, in the Fallon/Churchill County area we have addressed:
In reference to Mining activities, the committee should be aware that mining plays a minor role in the Churchill County area. We currently regulate -- or are evaluating 4 mines in the area. They are: Fallon Project, Dixie Comstock, Bell Mountain, and Fondaway Canyon). Again, mining in Churchill county represents a very small percentage of mining activities in the State.
The Fallon Naval Air Station
I would again like to introduce Paul Liebendorfer who is the Chief of the Division's Bureau of Federal Facilities who will provide you with an overview of environmental conditions at the base. I would also like to point out that a map of the base area is included in your handout for reference.
Environmental Conditions -- NAS Fallon
(Mr. Liebendorfer) As way of background, the Fallon Naval Air Station is a major feature on any map of the Fallon/Churchill County area. Like any base its size and age, it has its environmental concerns.
At the Naval Air Station there are 26 sites where historic contamination and disposal activities have been identified and are under investigation. The principal contaminants are fuel/oils, solvent/patints, and industrial and municipal garbage and refuse. Through an ongoing site characterization program it has been determined that the top 20 feet of the local shallow aquifer (ground water) has been shown to be impacted in certain areas. However, its important to note that the ground water movement on the base is in a south easterly direction -- away from the City of Fallon, See reference map below.
Now I would like to turn your attention to the Project Shaol site. As way of background, Project Shoal was an underground nuclear test conducted jointly by the Department of Defense and the Atomic Energy Commission. Its purpose was to study the effects of different geological media on seismic waves. The site is located about 30 miles east of Fallon. The device was detonated on October 26, 1963 at a depth of 1,205ft beneath ground surface. The shot produced a rubble-filled chimney 170ft in diameter and 460ft high. To date, 7 wells have been installed -- they are depicted within the gray are on the map. The gray area is is approximately 1 mile square. Only one well which is located about 600 feet east of the event has shown radiological constituents above background, however theses were still significantly below the safe drinking water act standards. Again, groundwater flow beneath the Shoal site is to the east -- away from the City of Fallon. (See more "online" information about Project Shoal)
Carson River Mercury Site
(Mr. Biaggi) The final item I would like to discuss this afternoon is the Carson River Mercury site. There are two fact sheets in your packets which generally describe the site and the Superfund process.
The Carson River was the site of a number of mills in the late 1800s to process gold and silver. They used a process call the Washoe Amalgam method which used mercury for separation of the gold from the ore. The process was inefficient and resulted in many pounds of mercury into the river system.
Mercury is not known as a cancer causing agent but it does effect the central nervous system and therefore is a concern. In your handouts is information on the toxilogical effects of mercury on the human body. This information was derived from the US Department of Health and human Services, Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR).
The Superfund program is intended to address hazardous waste sites that pose a substantial risk to human health and the environment. The Carson River site was designated as Nevada's only Superfund site in 1991. The Superfund site boundaries generally extend from New Empire east of Carson City to Stillwater so Fallon is technically within the boundaries as generally described. The U.S. E.P.A. has been evaluating the site for the last ten years. It established a health based standard for the area for soils and has conducted small scale and limited clean up in a couple of areas around Dayton.
Health studies done by Dr. Sandra Daugherty from the UNR Medical School in about 1995 of Dayton/Silver City residents indicated no elevated mercury levels when compared to the normal US population. A fish consumption advisory based upon mercury in fish tissue was put into place for Lahonton reservoir in 1986. It was extended and updated a few years ago.
We do not believe that EPA is contemplating any further actions concerning the site at this time nor is there an identified imminent or substantial human health threat from this contamination.
In closing, Mrs. DeBraga thank you for holding these hearings and asking us to speak today. I hope that this brief overview gives you some insight and answers some of the questions the Committee members may have had on the environmental conditions in Churchill County and Fallon. The Division of Environmental Protection appreciates the efforts of the State Health Division in investigating occurrences of the cancers in the area and stands ready to make available any information or resources it has to assist local, state or federal agencies to further these inquiries.
Summary Listing of Environmental Permits in Churchill County
from the Nevada Division of Environmental Protection
As of February 8, 2001