Issued 1/31/97



Upton, NY, January 31 - The U.S. Department of Energy's Brookhaven National Laboratory announced on January 18 that tritium contamination had been found in the groundwater in the center of the BNL site. The latest round of sampling shows tritium levels in groundwater that are 11 times the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's drinking water standard.

The tritium was found in two monitoring wells recently installed about 100 feet south of the High Flux Beam Reactor (HFBR), one of the Lab's two research reactors. The wells were sampled in October and December of 1996 and several times this January. The concentrations increased significantly between October and now. Tritium contamination above the drinking water standard was first seen on January 8, in results of analysis of water samples from the monitoring wells. That analysis showed the tritium contamination to be about twice the EPA drinking water standard. Brookhaven Lab immediately began an investigation of the contamination.

The tritium data announced today come from temporary monitoring wells installed over the past two weeks as part of BNL's investigation to determine the extent of the contamination and help locate the source.

EPA is independently analyzing samples to confirm BNL's data. In addition, DOE is providing independent oversight of BNL's investigation.

Brookhaven Lab is committed to remediating the groundwater to assure protection of public health.

Results to date indicate that on-site drinking water at the Lab is not contaminated with tritium. BNL's potable supply wells are located north of the tritium contamination, in the opposite direction of groundwater flow, and tap water is sampled daily for radioactivity.

To date, tritium has also not been detected above the drinking water standard in monitoring wells at BNL's southern boundary, in the path of groundwater flowing south from the tritium contamination near the reactor. The Lab plans to increase sampling frequency at its southern monitoring wells and at its monitoring wells south of the site boundary. Homes immediately south of the Laboratory are hooked up to public water, which is also tested for radioactivity.

Tritium is a radioactive isotope of hydrogen and is a byproduct of Lab operations.

The HFBR had been shut down in December for routine maintenance and will remain shut down until the situation is satisfactorily understood by both DOE and Brookhaven Lab.

The High Flux Beam Reactor is a world-class research reactor that provides beams of neutrons for scientists from around the world, in disciplines ranging from biology and chemistry to physics and materials science.

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.