99-92a
Tuesday, October 12, 1999

Brookhaven Lab Reports Peconic River Sampling Results

UPTON, NY - The U.S. Department of Energy's Brookhaven National Laboratory today announced results from Brookhaven's latest sampling for radioactive elements in and around the Peconic River. Presented below are data for plutonium, which was the focus of the sampling in response to public concerns.

Sediment in the 17-mile length of the river from the Lab's eastern boundary all the way to Riverhead shows average concentrations comparable to plutonium levels in the Connetquot River, a control location because it is unaffected by Laboratory operations. Plutonium was not detected in fish and surface water. Background plutonium levels were seen in groundwater on the Brookhaven site as well as in control locations west of the Laboratory.

On the Brookhaven property, plutonium concentrations in sediments are higher than the reference levels in the Connetquot River, but still well below levels that would pose a risk to aquatic life or to human health, either under present conditions or considering hypothetical future residents on the Brookhaven Lab property.

Brookhaven first reported preliminary findings of plutonium in June of 1998. This latest round of sampling more precisely defines the levels of plutonium in Peconic River sediments.

Plutonium Results From Latest Sampling

Highest concentrations of plutonium in the Peconic River were found in the top two inches of river sediment. Average concentrations of plutonium in the top two inches of sediment, on or off the Brookhaven property, are shown below, expressed in picocuries per gram, or pCi/g. A picocurie is one trillionth of a curie, which is a unit of measure for radioactivity.

 Peconic River on site  0.09 pCi/g
Peconic River off site, from Lab boundary downstream to Schultz Road  0.06 pCi/g
Peconic River off site, downstream past Schultz Road  0.04 pCi/g
 Connetquot River, control location  0.03 pCi/g

These concentrations are well below 2.44 pCi/g, the level that would warrant further evaluation based on guidance provided by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Government agencies and community members have been notified of the results.

Sampling and Analysis Procedures

Through a series of workshops and roundtables, the public had significant input in developing the sampling and analysis plan that Brookhaven Lab followed in conducting the sampling. Several community members observed the sampling process, and local, state and federal agencies received samples for independent testing.

In the spring of this year, Brookhaven Lab collected over 500 samples of soil, sediment, surface water and groundwater. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation collected fish separately. Although plutonium was the focus of this sampling program, all samples were analyzed for a range of radioactive elements: americium-241; cesium-137; uranium-233/234, 235 and 238; and plutonium-238 and 239/240. An independent laboratory analyzed the samples.

Samples were collected from a number of locations: sludge in an out-of-service sewer line (now capped) that once led to the sewage plant, soils in the sand filter beds and berms at the plant, groundwater in the vicinity of and downgradient of the plant, sediments in the Peconic River at 73 locations extending east to Riverhead, and fish in the river from locations both on and off site.

In order to determine reference levels of radioactive elements, surface water and sediment samples were collected from the Connetquot River and groundwater samples from wells situated 18-30 miles west of Brookhaven Lab. As part of a separate watershed, these locations are not influenced by Brookhaven operations, so samples collected there served as control samples for comparison purposes.

Suffolk County, New York State, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy selected particular samples for their own independent analyses.

Some radioactive elements such as uranium occur naturally in the environment. Some man-made radioactive elements such as plutonium are also present in the environment due to atmospheric fallout from past U.S., Soviet and Chinese nuclear weapons tests. At Brookhaven Lab, operation of the Brookhaven Graphite Research Reactor from 1950-1969 resulted in radioactive contamination both in soil where waste was handled and in discharge of liquid distillate from a waste concentration facility into the site's sewage treatment facility. The plant discharges into a tributary of the Peconic River on the Brookhaven property

Past Operations and Monitoring

Brookhaven Lab has operated its sewage treatment plant since the Lab's establishment in 1947. Regulations governing the plant have become more stringent through the years, and Brookhaven has periodically upgraded the plant to comply with changing regulations and increase the removal of pollutants. Sampling and analysis capabilities have also greatly improved over time.

In the past decade, samples collected in the Peconic River by both Brookhaven Lab and New York State showed a variety of materials in river sediments and fish.

Previous monitoring showed elevated concentrations of mercury, silver and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in river sediment on the Lab property. In high levels, these contaminants can be toxic to wildlife and humans. The levels found on site at Brookhaven are elevated enough that the Laboratory, in discussions with regulators, has proposed removing those contaminants from the river bottom. That action will also address the results of past sampling that showed that fish in the on-site portion of the Peconic River contain concentrations of metals that could pose a threat to wildlife feeding on them.

By cleaning up river sediments on the Lab site, co-located radioactive contamination will also be removed.

Public Information Sessions

At the following information sessions, Brookhaven Lab will present posters on the latest sampling data and answer questions:

Brookhaven Lab will present remediation alternatives for public comment later this fall.

Past operations at the Laboratory have resulted in soil and groundwater contamination. Environmental remediation at Brookhaven Lab is carried out under requirements of the federal Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act of 1980. Remediation work is conducted under the framework of an interagency agreement among the U.S. Department of Energy, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and N.Y. State Department of Environmental Conservation. The Department of Energy owns the Brookhaven property and oversees and pays for all cleanup costs.

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