The 3,777-acre Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant is at the center of another proposed class action that alleges the surrounding population was unaware the Pike County, Ohio facility’s operations expelled radioactive material into the air, water and soil. The 27-page suit, which now resides in federal court, alleges the entities involved with the uranium enrichment plant “could have prevented or mitigated the offsite impact” of the facility’s operations—and minimized harm to nearby residents—by exercising simple caution, complying with applicable regulations and using reasonable care.
“The foreseeable risks of harm posed could have been reduced or avoided by reasonable instructions or warnings when it became clear that toxins had been released into the environment,” the plaintiffs argue. “Those omission [sic] render Defendants’ operations not reasonably safe.”
At the heart of the complaint is Zahn’s Corner Middle School, which suddenly closed on May 13, 2019 after enriched uranium was detected within the school itself. Neptunium-237, a byproduct of nuclear reactors and plutonium production, was also found in the surrounding air. Zahn’s Corner Middle School is roughly two miles from the Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant, the case says, and served as Pike County’s only middle school, housing approximately 300 students daily.
According to the lawsuit, the abrupt closure of Zahn’s Corner Middle School was the “first verified notification to the community” that radioactive materials had been expelled from the Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant into the environment. The plaintiffs allege they and other proposed class members have all suffered injuries, including heart disease and various types of cancer, from exposure to radioactive material.
After radioactive material was discovered around Zahn’s Corner Middle School, other locations near the defendants’ plant also reported elevated levels of radioactive particles, the lawsuit says. These readings, according to the suit, were consistent with those that may be expected to be found in close proximity to a site that handles uranium enrichment.
Though the plaintiffs concede that the defendants—Centrus Energy Corp., United States Enrichment Corporation, Uranium Disposition Services, BWXT Conversion Services, Mid-America Conversion Services, Bechtel Jacobs Company, Lata/Parallax Portsmouth and Fluor-BWXT Portsmouth—could not have prevented every risk of harm to humans, they, “through their silence” and “aggressive public relations efforts,” misrepresented that their uranium enrichment operations did not contaminate the surrounding community, the case says. The companies, who were variously responsible for the plant’s building, operation, hexafluoride conversion work, and eventual environmental remediation efforts, have allegedly “attempted to mislead and misrepresent the nature of the materials being expelled” into Pike County. As a result of the defendants’ actions, the plaintiffs claim, Pike County residents have been exposed to radiation that can cause “gravely serious” biological effects. From the suit:
“The injuries resulting from exposure to ionizing radiation can also be separated into two categories: somatic injuries and genetic injuries. Somatic injuries are damages to the individual exposed. These include damages to the skin, reproductive system, blood forming system, digestive system, central nervous system, and immune system, as well as cancers. Illnesses such as cancers may take a number of years to appear. Research shows that uranium has a high chemical affinity for DNA and causes genetic damages to individuals resulting in birth defect outcomes and cancer at levels much greater than previously modelled.”
Today, the Portsmouth plant is in shutdown status in preparation for decontamination and decommission.
The lawsuit proposes to cover a class of all individuals and minor children who were exposed to toxic and radioactive material expelled by the Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant. The complaint can be read below.