NORRISTOWN, Pa. — A facility that launders the protective garments used by nuclear industry employees is monitoring the buildup of radiation in the Schuylkill River, Pennsylvania environmental officials report, but the low levels detected to date present no danger to the public through recreational contact or fish consumption.
A Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) investigation shows that effluent discharged from the Royersford, Pa., decontamination facility operated by UniTech Services Group — the nuclear services subsidiary of UniFirst Corp. — contains low levels of radioactivity from cobalt-60 and cesium-137.
UniTech has operated the facility near the Schuylkill in southeast Pennsylvania since the 1980s. For most of its operating life, the facility sent wastewater to the Royersford wastewater treatment plant, where low levels of radioactivity became concentrated in sewage sludge over time, the DEP says.
In 2004, UniTech built its own, state-of-the-art wastewater treatment plant, and began a permitted discharge directly into the river, according to the DEP.
“At no time did UniTech exceed its permitted discharge limits for radionuclides,” says DEP Regional Director Joseph A. Feola. “However, based on our analysis of sludge that settled out at the Royersford wastewater treatment plant, we now know that low-level radioactive material in liquid effluents can become concentrated over time.”
DEP continues to work closely with UniTech to discuss sampling methods and exchange data.