Issued 2/6/97

EPA CONTACT: Rich Cahill, 212/637-3666

DOE CONTACT: Jayne Brady, 202/586-5820

BNL CONTACT: Mona S. Rowe, 516/344-2345




Upton, NY - The U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL) announced today the most recent results of its continuing investigation of tritium contamination in groundwater in the center of the Lab's 5,300-acre site. Based on the location of tritium contamination (approximately 1.5 miles inside of BNL's southern site boundary), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) believes that the contamination does not pose a public health threat.

EPA Administrator Carol Browner and Acting Secretary of Energy Charles Curtis are continuing to monitor the situation closely. Recent samples collected as part of an aggressive strategy to define the extent of contamination have recorded levels as high as 651,000 picocuries per liter, or 32 times the U.S. EPA's drinking water standard of 20,000 picocuries per liter. More than 100 samples have been analyzed by BNL since January 31. This contamination appears to be shallow and in an area directly south of the Lab's main research reactor, the High Flux Beam Reactor (HFBR).

Protecting Drinking Water

EPA is independently analyzing all of the water samples taken from BNL's network of monitoring wells around the HFBR. To date, BNL and EPA sampling results have been consistently in agreement. EPA staff have met with BNL and DOE teams on site, and EPA, DOE and BNL personnel are sharing and will continue to share information on a regular basis.

EPA's Regional Administrator Jeanne Fox stated, "EPA will continue to be involved until we are sure that we have made good on our commitment that this contamination is under control and will cause no harm to the public now or in the future. The drinking water remains safe."

Additional tests are being conducted to confirm that tritium is not present above the drinking water standard in any monitoring well at BNL's southern boundary, in the path of groundwater flowing south from the tritium contamination near the reactor building. On February 5, BNL's field teams were dispatched to reconfirm sampling results at on-site and off-site monitoring wells south of the tritium contamination. Homes immediately south of the Laboratory are hooked up to public water, which is tested for radioactivity.

On-site drinking water at the Lab is tested daily for radioactivity, and results continue to show that tap water is not contaminated with tritium. BNL's potable supply wells are located north of the tritium contamination, in the opposite direction of groundwater flow.

"We view the tritium contamination situation very seriously," said BNL Director Nicholas Samios. "Brookhaven Lab will continue to do everything possible to contain and remediate the contamination and prevent further releases. The health of our employees and the public is our highest priority."

Strategy for Mapping and Mitigating Contamination

DOE and BNL are implementing an aggressive strategy to determine the extent of the contamination and to identify the source. That strategy includes installation of additional groundwater sampling wells to map the tritium contamination, immediate retesting of monitoring wells for tritium along and beyond the southern perimeter of the BNL site, and examination of options for removing tritium from the groundwater.

As part of the strategy to map the tritium contamination, BNL installed a network of 24 temporary monitoring wells and collected over 100 water samples. Four of these wells were installed north of the reactor building, in the opposite direction of groundwater flow, and the remaining 20 wells were located south of the building, in the direction of groundwater flow.

Although BNL cannot yet pinpoint the source of contamination, the four wells installed north of the reactor did not detect tritium. Also, pressure tests of lines that leave the reactor building on the northwest side found no leaks. BNL's investigation is therefore focused on possible tritium sources from piping exterior to the south side of the building as well as sources within the reactor building.

At this time, the most likely causes of the contamination are either a primary coolant pump seal leak that occurred in July 1995 or a small leak in the 68,000-gallon HFBR spent fuel pool. In the first case, 150 gallons of water containing tritium in concentrations of about two curies per liter were spilled on the floor of the HFBR. While originally it was believed that almost all of the water was recovered, investigators are looking at the possibility that some of the water leaked through the building's floor. In the case of the spent fuel pool, preliminary leak tests have failed to show any leakage, but more precise measurements are being pursued.

Neither DOE, BNL nor EPA is yet ready to rule out other possible HFBR pathways, such as piping systems embedded in the foundation of the building or other waste lines. DOE, EPA, BNL and state and local regulators are also examining the most effective options for remediating the contamination.

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

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