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State to say if KHS is safe site

KINGSTON — In its ongoing investigation of health risks surrounding the former Nike missile site, the Washington Department of Health has confirmed it will answer a question that the Environmental Protection Agency could not.

The question posed last month: Is North Kitsap School District’s property near the former Nike site safe to build a new high school?

“We’ll be able to address that question to the extent of the data we have,” said Wayne Clifford, DOH site assessment manager. “That’s one question we will be answering.”

In July, EPA officials said although their investigation of the Kingston site turned up low levels of contamination, they could not say what level of risk — if any — the site posed for a new school.

The DOH, which was petitioned by a concerned citizen last year to investigate specific health risks surrounding the decommissioned site, will take the EPA’s study a step further and consider specific details of site use. For instance, the DOH will research how the site’s levels of contamination would affect high school students journeying near the former site 180 days a year.

“We look at contamination at the site and examine it on a very conservative basis,” said Lenford O’Garro, DOH public health advisor on the project.

“We look more at health based values,” he added.

The DOH began its study at the EPA’s July 29 meeting in Kingston, with O’Garro asking for community input to help with his agency’s investigation. But so far, only one resident has returned a completed form, the DOH said.

“We have enough to go on,” Clifford said, but he added that he does encourage residents to submit additional comments.

The DOH officials also added that they use a variety of resources to gauge community concern, including the forms they distribute, e-mails, phone calls and even letters to the editor in local newspapers.

In this case, O’Garro and Clifford said that through a few community members, they’ve been able to get a lot of input.

“What’s happening is these couple of residents are becoming the voice of others,” Clifford said. “And we’ve got a pretty good picture of health concerns.”

The EPA and the DOH will be investigating the Nike site for radiation after community members at the July 29 meeting raised concerns that nuclear warheads were possibly stored on the site. The site and nearby wells will be tested for nuclear contamination. However, the idea of testing Spectrum students — whose school uses the Nike site’s barracks — will not be explored, Clifford commented.

“At this point, our plan for involvement for the school is to basically make sure they are aware of our health consultation,” Clifford said.

The DOH will have a completed report in eight to 10 weeks. After the report is released, residents will have two weeks to provide public input after which the DOH will address the comments. Finally, the health consultation will be submitted to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, which will also offer its comments. A final draft will be released and a fact sheet offering a synopsis of the consultation will be mailed out to area residents, Clifford said.

Though he wouldn’t speculate on the results of the consultation, Clifford said that from the EPA’s report that “... there’s really nothing jumping out at us.”

“This is another area that we clearly don’t expect to see a health threat,” he said. “But since there is the concern from the community, we’ll go ahead and do the testing.”

The bottom line for the DOH is determining if there are heightened cancer cases in the area surrounding the former missile site, he added.

“Residents have expressed a number of concerns,” Clifford said. “One of the things we’re going to answer is the question about cancer rates in the community as best we can.”

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