#97-94 Contact: Mona S. Rowe, or
Issued 9/10/97 Kara Villamil

 

 

ENVIRONMENTAL MANAGEMENT UPDATE

AT BROOKHAVEN NATIONAL LABORATORY

 

UPTON, NY - Officials at the U.S. Department of Energy's Brookhaven National Laboratory met today with environmental regulators and representatives of elected officials and community groups to provide an update of environmental management at BNL.

The update focused primarily on a comprehensive, site-wide facilities review, initiated in April of this year and conducted by BNL and the Department of Energy (DOE), with participation and technical assistance from Suffolk County Department of Health Services and other DOE facilities. The review meets a milestone set by DOE in July, in the agency's action plan for improved management of BNL.

At the meeting, BNL also gave briefings on the status of Superfund remediation projects, tritium levels at the Lab's sewage treatment plant, pending completion of the sewage plant upgrade, and the scheduled opening of a new waste management facility.

Facilities Review

BNL initiated the facilities review as a result of lessons learned from recent events at the Lab, in which operating and unused facilities were found to be affecting the environment.

The review identified 21 significant findings. BNL had general knowledge of all but one of these findings prior to the review and had taken action in the past to characterize and correct specific problems. The one new finding was a 1972 release of approximately 190 gallons of oil and a solvent, and BNL plans to install monitoring wells to evaluate the area.

In order to further reduce any potential risk to the environment, the Lab took immediate corrective action during the course of the review for 14 of the 21 findings, in order to meet present-day standards and eliminate potential environmental vulnerability. BNL will address the remaining seven findings in the coming year. (See summary of significant findings, below.)

BNL has occupied its 5,300-acre site for the past 50 years, and the U.S. Army used the site before 1947. The review encompassed past activities as well as current operations that have the potential to degrade the environment with chemical or radiological contamination.

The review provided BNL with a better understanding of previously reported contaminants in groundwater on the Lab property, including organic chemicals and radionuclides. The Lab also gained additional detailed information on tanks and underground lines that had been identified in the past as having the potential to release chemical or radioactive materials to the environment. This information will help BNL continue to characterize and address environmental deficiencies.

Corrective actions requiring additional funding have been identified and are included in an environmental management plan for fiscal year 1998, which begins October 1, 1997. Additionally, several of the facilities are under active evaluation by the Lab's ongoing environmental restoration program under Superfund.

Completed Superfund Remediation and Upcoming Projects

BNL completed excavation of 53 former waste pits in mid-August. These pits were used from the late 1950s to 1981 for disposal of containers, glassware and other materials that contained chemicals and radioactive elements. More than 8,000 cubic yards of material and potentially contaminated soil were excavated and will be disposed of off site.

Environmental remediation at BNL is done under requirements of the federal law commonly known as Superfund. BNL is on the Superfund list due to past operations that resulted in soil and groundwater contamination. Remediation is conducted under an interagency agreement among DOE, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.

Also within the Superfund process, BNL will be seeking public comment this fall on results of an investigation associated with contamination in the Lab's sewage treatment plant area. Soils, sediment and fish are being analyzed for chemicals and radionuclides. Comments from regulators will be incorporated into a document, which will be available for public review later this year.

Another upcoming Superfund project will involve the remediation of soil on the BNL property that is contaminated with radioactive elements. Most of the contaminated soils are located at the Lab's old facility for handling hazardous waste. The primary radionuclides of concern are cesium-137 and strontium-90. Unlike tritium, which moves with groundwater, these particular radionuclides bind to soil particles. The remediation alternative being recommended is soil excavation and disposal off site.

Tritium at the Sewage Treatment Plant

Tritium levels at BNL's sewage treatment plant vary from day to day. In July, however, tritium was detected at levels that were well above the normal range, and BNL issued a press release on the incident. A BNL investigation has concluded that the temporary tritium increase did not come from a release within the building that houses the Lab's main research reactor, the High Flux Beam Reactor (HFBR), which has not operated this year. The investigation, however, has not yet determined conclusively the source of the tritium.

In a separate event, the August 27 sample of the sanitary line for the HFBR building showed an increase in tritium concentration. The building's sanitary line is monitored daily, and increases were also seen in June and February of this year. The line collects drainage from sinks, toilets and floor drains in the building, and the waste goes on to BNL's sewage treatment plant.

In both the July and August events, tritium levels at the sewage treatment plant did not exceed the Lab's monthly discharge goal for tritium.

Sewage Plant Upgrade, New Waste Management Facility

BNL's sewage treatment plant upgrade will be completed this month. Hendrickson Brothers, Inc., of Farmingdale, NY, did construction work for the $3.25 million upgrade from primary to tertiary treatment. While the plant in its current configuration has operated successfully, the upgraded plant will use aeration tanks to reduce significantly nitrogen and organic matter. Also, the effluent will be disinfected with ultraviolet light, eliminating the use of chlorine.

By the end of the calendar year, a new, state-of-the-art $16-million facility to handle chemical and radioactive waste is scheduled to open. J. Kokolakis Contracting, Inc., of Rocky Point, NY, was the major construction contractor for the facility, which is located on an 18-acre site near BNL's central campus. Environmental protection features include paving, curbing, containment systems and underground lining in critical areas.

The new facility will replace an existing waste-handling area that is being remediated under Superfund. Where possible, the Lab works to minimize the amount of waste generated. Already, BNL has reduced its hazardous waste output by 50% in three years.

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Facilities Review at Brookhaven National Laboratory:

Summary of Significant Findings

 

In April 1997, the U.S. Department of Energy's Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL) began a comprehensive, site-wide environmental review of its facilities. The top-to-bottom facilities review was conducted by Brookhaven Lab and the Department of Energy (DOE), with participation and technical assistance from Suffolk County Department of Health Services and other DOE facilities.

For the review, every one of the roughly 400 existing buildings and structures, 300 demolished buildings and 300 portable structures on the BNL site was designated as either a priority-one or priority-two facility. Priority-one facilities used or generated significant quantities of radioactive material prior to the 1970s, when most environmental regulations and standards were developed and issued.

The first phase of the review covered priority-one buildings, and the most significant findings are summarized below. These represent either an existing or past potential for releases to the soil or groundwater that could contaminate the groundwater above the state/federal drinking water standard.

Although listed here, many of the findings have already been reported in prior documents. BNL has taken action for 14 of the 21 findings, and the remaining seven will be addressed in the coming year. Additionally, the Lab has assigned responsibility for continued surveillance and maintenance of those facilities that are not scheduled for immediate remediation.

A number of the environmental vulnerabilities identified by the review are already being remediated through the federal Superfund cleanup program, under an interagency agreement with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and DOE.

Underground Sumps, Tanks, Lines, Ducts

Historic Discharges of Solvents, Oil, and Mercury

The facilities review was managed by a six-person committee made up of representatives from Brookhaven Lab, DOE and Suffolk County. Additional technical support staff were drawn from the Lab, DOE and the County, as well as from: Argonne National Laboratory, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Pantex, and Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory.