Protestors at Willey Road site entrance in the 1980s
most of Fernaldís production era, the general public paid little
attention to what was happening inside the secured fence line, and
site workers were focused on one thing:
high quality uranium metal better, faster, cheaper and safer than
its competition. Fernald was on the leading edge of manufacturing
improvements and innovative technologies. The workforce, a unique
combination of highly skilled tradesmen and professionals with
expertise in chemical and metallurgical processes, took pride in
the quality of their products and their service to the nationís
era of quiet operations and minimal public interest ended abruptly
in 1984, when the Department of Energy (DOE) reported that nearly
300 pounds of enriched uranium oxide had been released to the
environment from a Plant 9 dust collector system.
That same year, DOE also reported that in 1981, three
off-property wells south of the site were contaminated with
uranium. The impact of nearly four decades of uranium metal
production suddenly became the center of public controversy.
living near the site formed a new citizenís interest group, the
Fernald Residents for Environmental Safety and Health (FRESH), to
closely monitor Fernaldís activities. Years later, the
grass-roots organization would participate in the decision-making
process that leads to final cleanup solutions for the site.
1984, Fernald-area residents filed a class action lawsuit seeking
damages for emotional distress and decreased property values. The
suit was settled in 1989 after a summary trial. DOE
agreed to pay $73 million for emotional distress, medical
monitoring, residential real property diminution and legal and
administrative costs, and an additional $5 million for commercial
and industrial real property diminution claims for property within
a five-mile radius of the Fernald site.
Two events in early 1986 attracted
scrutiny: the unauthorized venting of two waste storage silos and
a crack in the Pilot Plant vessel. Suddenly,
reporters from popular national news programs such as 60
Minutes and 20/20,
as well as Britain, Canada, Japan and Germany, were interested in
the Fernald site.
public concerns about contamination problems peaked, people
demanded answers to questions about off-site groundwater
contamination, air emissions and worker safety and health.
However, site management was unprepared to handle the concerns --
there was no public information about Fernaldís operations, no
forums to discuss issues with concerned citizens and no site
contacts to call if there was a question.
heavy media coverage and citizensí mistrust of site management
and concerns about safety and health practices continued to spread
through the surrounding communities. In 1988, two nearby camps for
children closed, citing concerns about Fernald and attributing
reduced attendance to the negative publicity.
contributing factor to the controversy surrounding Fernald and
other weapons complex facilities was the lack of environmental,
safety and health regulations. It was not until the 1970s and
1980s that environmental concerns raised national consciousness,
and consequently the U.S. government and general populace began to
understand the industrial revolutionís effect on the
environment. Federal and state regulators began investigating
reports of serious environmental and safety
problems at nuclear weapons facilities, including the Fernald
management came to realize that isolating themselves from the
community, as in the past, was not the answer. Steps were
taken to establish contact
with the public and create public information channels so people
could learn about site operations. DOE opened several reading rooms to make site documents
available to the public and started holding public meetings to
break the ice. The
early meetings were often contentious and accusatory, with the
public demanding answers from site officials who were unprepared
to handle the hostility.
1986, DOE awarded Fernaldís managing and operating contract to
Westinghouse Material Company of Ohio, replacing National Lead of
Ohio after 33 years. Once on board, Westinghouse quickly initiated several
community relations programs, including small group roundtables to
openly discuss topics of public interest with site personnel.
For the first time, management and technical leaders began
a regular, two-way exchange of information and questions with
local citizens groups, township leaders and residents on the
cleanup challenges facing the Fernald site.
building relationships and earning trust and respect after decades
of secrecy and controversy takes time and consistent performance.
In 1992, one year after Congress approved the closure of
Fernaldís uranium production mission and authorized the siteís
new cleanup mission, DOE awarded a first-of-its-kind environmental
remediation contract to FERMCO, later renamed Fluor Fernald. At
that time, the site was involved in the remedial
investigation/feasibility study, a lengthy, complicated
investigation to determine the nature and extent of contamination
and determine specific cleanup plans.
first, DOE and Fluor followed a regulatory mandated public review
process that allowed opportunities for public input but did little
to break down long-standing communications barriers or build
residents were concerned that key decisions, which would
ultimately affect their lives, were being made behind closed doors
or with limited public input.
They insisted on more frequent, face-to-face interaction
with Fernald decision-makers.
As a result, DOE and Fluor adopted a new strategy for
public participation based on the premise that people have a
desire to participate in decisions that affect their lives.
Fernald was entering a new phase of communications, and
would later be recognized as a national leader in effective public