#97-16
Issued 2/13/97

EPA CONTACT: Rich Cahill, 212/637-3666
DOE CONTACT: Carmen MacDougall 202/586-4940
BNL CONTACT: Mona S. Rowe, 516/344-2345

 

FEB. 13 UPDATE ON GROUNDWATER CONTAMINATION
AT BROOKHAVEN NATIONAL LAB


UPTON, NY -- Recent sampling of off-site monitoring wells in the residential area south of the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL) shows levels of tritium that range from less-than-detectable levels to 750 picocuries per liter (pCi/L). The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has reviewed these data and continues to conclude that there is no public health threat from drinking water.

These levels are consistent with previous measurements and are significantly below the EPA drinking water standard of 20,000 pCi/L. (A pCi is a measure of radiation equivalent to one one-trillionth of a curie.) The results represent the first data reported from residential areas since the January reports of high concentrations of tritium in groundwater near BNL's High Flux Beam Reactor (HFBR). The samples were taken during the week of February 3 from 22 monitoring wells located south of the site boundary. Residences immediately south of the Laboratory are connected to public water, and the Suffolk County Department of Health Services monitors the public water supply.

EPA, DOE and BNL officials agree that the low tritium levels in these off-site wells are not the result of the HFBR tritium plume currently under investigation. This conclusion is based on geological and other scientific analyses of the groundwater contamination near the HFBR and the distance between the tritium plume and the site boundary. DOE and BNL are consulting with independent private-sector and other state- and federal-agency experts to determine if historical laboratory operations could be a source of the low levels of tritium found off site. Low levels of tritium are associated with cosmic radiation, fallout from past worldwide atmospheric nuclear weapons tests, and variability in test results that occurs when measuring tritium, especially at very low levels.

The results of the latest groundwater analyses do not change the focus of the investigation, which is centered on two possible sources of the elevated tritium levels near the HFBR. As previously reported, the two potential sources are a 1995 pump-seal leak and possible leakage from the spent fuel pool. DOE and BNL are examining various options for remediating the pollution, including pumping contaminated water out of the ground and holding it in tanks on site.
EPA has performed independent analyses of the first 92 on-site samples, and they continue to confirm Brookhaven's results. In addition, EPA plans to analyze samples from the 22 off-site wells later in the week.

Several activities are under way to determine the source of the tritium contamination and initiate corrective actions:


BNL and DOE will continue to release information as it becomes available.

-- 30 --