Each step of the cleanup process at BNL is reviewed and approved by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC), under a contract called the "Interagency Agreement." This agreement was formalized in 1992.
To manage the cleanup, the BNL site was initially divided into seven Operable Units (OUs), two of which were later combined to form OU II/VII. At the outset, BNL had 24 "Areas of Concern" (AOCs) that have been or are being addressed through the Interagency Agreement. The AOCs consisted of active facilities, such as BNL's sewage treatment plant, and inactive facilities, such as three former landfills. The AOCs were grouped and prioritized into Removal Actions and Operable Units.
All CERCLA sites are required to go through a remedial investigation and feasibility study (RI/FS) prior to the decision process and actual cleanup. The first step, the remedial investigation, involves conducting sampling and analysis activities to determine the nature and extent of contamination, as well as potential risks to human health and the environment. A feasibility study is conducted to analyze and evaluate cleanup alternatives for each OU. The next step was to identify a preferred remedy, which is outlined in a document called the Proposed Remedial Action Plan or PRAP. The Record of Decision (ROD) is the final step. It describes the chosen remedy and documents the decisions that lead to the chosen remedial action. Once the ROD is issued, the remedial design and construction take place and the final cleanup begins. When there was a known risk to human health or the environment, the cleanup is conducted under a Removal Action. Removal Actions allow cleanup to be started and completed quickly without having to wait for the characterization and analyses word to be completed.
Throughout the process, the local community plays a key role in helping to shape the final remedial decisions. Fact sheets are distributed in order to provide important information, workshops are conducted to explain the results of the investigations, and meetings are held to provide opportunities for the public to comment on the cleanup plans.
In 1990, Brookhaven National Laboratory established an Environmental Restoration Group to oversee the Laboratory's cleanup activities. Initial plans called for one part-time and three full-time employees. In 1991, this group became the Office of Environmental Restoration, and was again renamed the Environmental Restoration Division (ERD) in 1998. At the peak of activity, more than 30 people worked in ERD, and the division received support from other Laboratory groups, including the Environmental Services Division and the Radiological Controls Division.
Early ERD activities included a Historical Site Review, the preparation of an Area of Concern List, a Schedules Document, the Community Relations Plan, a Site Baseline Report, and the Response Strategy Document. The first formal public meeting for the Laboratory's environmental restoration program was held at the Laboratory in September 1991. The meeting provided the public with the opportunity to comment on the BNL Site Specific Plan, the Community Relations Plan, and the Operable Unit IV Remedial Investigation/Feasibility Study Work Plan. In April 1993, the first formal public meeting was held off site at the Longwood Junior High School. This meeting was on the BNL Site Specific Plan. Information on environmental restoration activities was also provided. Over the following years, dozens of additional meetings were held both on- and off-site to give the community the opportunity to obtain information on the Laboratory’s cleanup projects and provide input.
In 2004, the Environmental Restoration Division was replaced by the Groundwater Protection Group, who is now responsible for the long-term surveillance, monitoring, maintenance, operation, reporting, and community involvement activities that are required to complete the environmental cleanup at Brookhaven National Laboratory.
The remedial investigations, feasibility studies, proposed plans, and Records of Decision for all of the OUs have been completed. Three additional RODs have been issued: for the Brookhaven Graphite Research Reactor, the g-2 Tritium Source Area and the Brookhaven Linac Isotope Producer (BLIP), and the High Flux Beam Reactor. Seven additional AOCs were added to the original 24 as investigations revealed additional contamination.
Remedial design and construction work has been completed for all of the original OUs and the g-2 Tritium Source Area and BLIP. Remediation of the Areas of Concern has, for the most part, been completed. All groundwater treatment systems have been constructed; some of the earliest systems have achieved their cleanup goals and have been shutdown. All soil clean-up has been completed. All clean-up of Peconic River sediments has been completed. Decommissioning and dismantlement of the Lab’s two reactors, the BGRR (AOC 9) and the HFBR (AOC 31), is underway. Removal of the BGRR graphite pile was completed in 2010 and demolition of the bioshield is to be completed in 2012. BNL’s red and white stack is scheduled to be dismantled by 2020. The HFBR was placed in “safe storage” in 2010 and will be monitored until 2075, when the reactor vessel will be dismantled and removed.