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Well test prompts action

The result of a well water test in the Town of Phenix is prompting the town and engineers to work to solve the issue, engineers and town officials involved cited.

A test at well No. 2, located on the western end of the town, was found to have slightly exceeded the regulated rate for natural radiological contamination.

Karen Austin, project manager with WW Associates, based in Forest, is working with the town and the Virginia Department of Health, Office of Drinking Water on the preliminary engineering report for the town to resolve the issue.

“In the course of normal water testing, the town found there was gross alpha,” Austin said. Gross alpha, according to Austin, is a broad collection of alpha emitting natural radiological contamination.

Town Mayor Franklin Dodd confirmed in a phone interview Monday that the town notified residents of the well test results.

“It’s pretty common all over the state actually, especially in certain geological formations,” Austin said about the findings. She said the town and Virginia Department of Health’s Office of Drinking Water are continuing to test the well and putting together a preliminary engineering report to find out the most cost efficient option.

This contamination can pose cancer risk, but Austin and Virginia Department of Health Engineer Harry Hughes said the volume of water that would need to be consumed for this risk to take place is very high.

“Someone would have to drink 2 liters of the water every day for 70 years to increase their chance of getting cancer,” Austin said. She noted that the chemical is in a lot of drinking water, but said due to the well in the town being a public drinking water area, the town is taking steps to address it.

Austin said there is no smell or taste associated with the gross alpha contamination.

“Because this is a public drinking water well, the town is taking it very seriously, so they’re taking immediate steps to address the issue, try to figure out what it is they can do, what are the costs associated, and then they can move forward with it,” Austin said.

Harry Hughes, district engineer with the Virginia Department of Health’s Office of Drinking Water, said the town tests the water quarterly due to a water system improvement project it began in 2017.

He said the level of gross alpha was found to be slightly above the regulated limit of 15 picocuries per liter. Picocuries, according to documentation from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, is equivalent to one trillionth of a curie, which measures the radioactivity of 1 gram of radium.

“Phenix came in just slightly above that,” Hughes said.

He made a potential suggestion for two of the wells to be combined.

“It looks like they’re going to be able to resolve that with blending wells 1 and 2 together to bring them down below the limits,” Hughes said.