DOE Contact: John Carter, 516-344-5195

BNL Media Contact: Mona S. Rowe, 516-344-2345

May 26, 1998



Brookhaven Lab Releases Results
of Peconic River Area Investigation


UPTON, NY - The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is seeking public comment on the results of an environmental investigation of the eastern-central portion of the Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL) site. The public comment period begins May 27 and ends July 29. The investigation was part of ongoing environmental remediation activities at BNL.

The area studied includes the Lab's sewage treatment plant, used to process the Lab's sewage. Approximately 800,000 gallons of treated water are discharged from the plant each day into the headwaters of the Peconic River, located on the BNL property. The plant consists of several processing buildings, a settling tank, six active sand filter beds and two storage ponds.

The Findings

The investigation's findings are subdivided into three categories: groundwater, soil and sediment, and fish. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), none of the findings indicates an existing risk to human health.


Groundwater southeast of the sewage plant and in off-site areas east and southeast of BNL contains volatile organic compounds, including trichloroethene (TCE), and tritium (a radioactive material). The maximum TCE concentration was 32 parts per billion (ppb) at 230 feet below land surface, well below the depth at which private wells are placed; the federal drinking water standard is 5 ppb. The maximum tritium concentration was one-tenth of the drinking water standard, at 40 feet below land surface. Home and business owners in these areas have been offered free hookup to public water supplies.

TCE was commonly used in industry and at the Lab as a degreasing agent to remove oil and other petroleum products from metal parts and machinery. The TCE contamination may have resulted from inadvertent historical releases through the Lab's sewage system. Today, TCE is only occasionally used at BNL, and its use and disposal are rigidly controlled by state and federal law.

Soils and Sediment

Soils at the plant contain elevated levels of heavy metals, such as mercury and silver, and low levels of radioactive materials, including cesium-137. The maximum concentrations are: for mercury, 15.1 milligrams per kilogram; for silver, 133 milligrams per kilogram; and for cesium, 98.8 picocuries per gram.

Downstream from the point of discharge, Peconic River sediments contain polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and low levels of radioactive materials and heavy metals, including mercury and silver. The maximum concentrations, all of which are on the Lab site, are: for mercury, 24.5 milligrams per kilogram; for silver, 171 milligrams per kilogram; for PCBs, 1.5 milligrams per kilogram; and for cesium, 13.6 picocuries per gram. Water-flow patterns and barriers impede the travel of these contaminants off site.


Fish in the on-site portion of the Peconic River accumulate PCBs and mercury. The risk assessment determined that these fish could pose a hazard to wildlife preying solely on them. Since the Peconic is not fished on the BNL property and the fish are too small for human consumption, on-site fish do not pose a hazard to human health. Water-flow patterns and barriers impede the travel of these contaminants and fish off site. The risk assessment concludes that contaminant concentrations found in off-site fish do not pose a hazard to wildlife or to human health.


The sewage treatment plant area was first used by the U.S. Army camp that occupied the BNL site during both World Wars. BNL began using the plant in 1947. Contamination found during the investigation is due to past disposal practices at the site.

Because the Lab's disposal practices have been radically updated, the plant's current effluent is not expected to cause such contamination. Since 1970, the effluent has been regulated by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC). Today's discharges are monitored daily and meet the stringent requirements of a NYSDEC permit.

The sewage treatment plant upgrade in 1997 employs two aeration tanks to reduce nitrogen and organic matter discharges and includes ultraviolet disinfection of the effluent, thereby eliminating the use of chlorine.

The investigation's findings are contained in a document known as the Operable Unit V Remedial Investigation/Risk Assessment Report. The report is available for review at public libraries in Shirley and Middle Island, the BNL library, and EPA's library in Manhattan. For more information, the public is invited to call DOE's John Carter at (516) 344-5195 or BNL's Peter Genzer at (516) 344-3174.

Environmental remediation at BNL is carried out under requirements of the federal Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act of 1980, commonly known as the Superfund law. The Lab is on the Superfund list primarily due to past operations that have resulted in soil and groundwater contamination that could potentially threaten Long Island's aquifer. Remediation work is conducted under an interagency agreement among NYSDEC, EPA and DOE. DOE has jurisdiction over the BNL property and pays for all cleanup costs.

- DOE -