Mailed 11/18/96


Upton, NY - Construction has begun to upgrade Brookhaven National Laboratory's sewage treatment plant, which treats almost one million gallons of sewage each day. Hendrickson Brothers, Inc. of Farmingdale has won the $3.25 million project to upgrade the plant from primary treatment to tertiary treatment. Construction will be completed in about a year.

Brookhaven's primary sewage treatment plant has been operating since 1969 under a New York State permit and has an excellent record of compliance. The upgraded plant will use aeration tanks to significantly reduce nitrogen and organic matter that might potentially harm the area's ecosystem. Also, the effluent will be disinfected with ultraviolet light, eliminating the use of chlorine.

Ed Murphy, Deputy Manager of Brookhaven's Plant Engineering Division, said, "Upgrading our sewage plant to tertiary treatment is an example of the Laboratory's commitment to protecting the environment, and we have carefully considered the community's input on the upgrade. The plant will reduce organic material in the effluent, and minimize the nutrients discharged to the Peconic River. The methods used to do so will duplicate nature's cycle as much as possible."

He added, "We have selected Hendrickson Brothers for the project to upgrade the plant because they have considerable experience in this type of construction, and they are a well-managed company with an excellent safety record. We are confident that they will do a good job."

Addressing Environmental Concerns: A History of the Project

Brookhaven Lab's existing sewage treatment plant has an excellent record of compliance with New York State discharge requirements. Effluent from the plant discharges into the dry riverbed of the Peconic River on the Lab site.

Due to the Lab's scientific research, the sewage plant effluent contains tritium, a radioactive isotope of hydrogen, and groundwater in the area of the plant also contains tritium. In both cases, however, the tritium concentrations are generally less than 10 percent of the state drinking water standard. Over the years, the Lab has successfully reduced its tritium releases and will continue to reduce them even further.

To reduce the organic content of the sewage plant's effluent, Brookhaven had planned last year to upgrade the plant to secondary treatment by installing two aeration tanks underground, which would have required dewatering. Dewatering is a conventional construction process in which groundwater is pumped out of an area being excavated.

Most of the groundwater would have been pumped on to the Laboratory's property around the plant, but, as a precaution, Brookhaven had applied for and received a New York State permit to discharge a limited amount of groundwater into the the Peconic, on Lab property. The project was postponed last October, when the public grew concerned about the environmental impact of dewatering, given that the groundwater contains tritium.

In response to public opinion, the Lab sought input on the project from environmentalists, civic representatives, regulatory agencies, local consultants and government officials. The new upgrade addresses their concerns.

In the new design, the aeration tanks will be constructed partially above ground, and the Lab will build a pump station to lift wastewater up to the tanks. Consequently, dewatering to the Peconic will be eliminated.

The new design, including the upgrade to tertiary treatment, will cost about $600,000 more than the initially planned upgrade to secondary treatment. The Lab will also spend about $30,000 more per year to operate the plant because of increased electrical and maintenance costs. A tertiary plant, however, is more protective of the environment because it reduces nitrogen in the effluent.

Brookhaven National Laboratory carries out basic and applied research in physical, biomedical and environmental sciences and in selected energy technologies. Associated Universities, Inc., a nonprofit research management organization, operates the Laboratory under contract with the U.S. Department of Energy.