U.S. Department of Energy Press Release

MARCH 1, 1999

SCOTT MALLETTE (DOE) 516/344-5345
PETER GENZER (BNL) 516/344-3174

The documents referred to in this press release are available at http://www.oer.dir.bnl.gov/ou3doc.html

Department of Energy Seeks Public Comment
on Brookhaven Lab Groundwater Cleanup Documents

UPTON, NY ­ The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is seeking public comment on its proposal for on-site and off-site groundwater cleanup at Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL). Three reports are now available for review. The reports document groundwater and soils characterization data and associated human and ecological risks, the evaluation of alternatives for groundwater cleanup, and the proposed alternatives for groundwater cleanup.

Public comment on these reports will be used to help determine subsequent cleanup activities to be conducted at BNL under the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Superfund program.
The reports are the Operable Unit III Remedial Investigation Report, the Operable Unit III Feasibility Study Report and the Operable Unit III Proposed Plan. The Remedial Investigation Report, Feasibility Study and Proposed Plan are available at the libraries listed below. An "Operable Unit" is an administrative name for a specific geographic area or a site-wide environmental system, such as contaminated soils or groundwater. The BNL site has been divided into six separate operable units.

The DOE will accept public comments on the proposed groundwater cleanup approach from March 1, 1999 through March 31, 1999. Written comments can be sent to George Malosh, Brookhaven Group Manager, U.S. Department of Energy-Brookhaven Group, Bldg. 464, P.O. Box 5000, Upton, NY 11973, or e-mailed to OU3comments@bnl.gov.

Public comments can also be provided at three information sessions to be held as follows:

The public will have an additional opportunity to provide comments during a March 24, 1999 public meeting at BNL's Berkner Hall from 7:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.

The public comments provided on the proposed remedy will be used to help select the final remedy for BNL's on-site and off-site groundwater contamination. The final decision will be documented in the Operable Unit III Record of Decision, due for release later this year.

Remedial Investigation - Sampling results

The main findings of the Operable Unit III investigation involve on- and off-site groundwater contamination. The primary contaminants are solvents, also called volatile organic compounds (VOCs), such as carbon tetrachloride, tetrachloroethene and trichloroethane, at concentrations up to 5,100 parts per billion (ppb) off site, and 15,000 ppb on site. The drinking water standard for these contaminants is 5 ppb. Plumes containing these contaminants extend beyond the southern boundary of the BNL site beneath residential areas. The contaminants are generally deeper than private wells. As a precautionary measure, public water hookups have been provided to residents immediately south of the Lab to ensure that public health is not impacted.

To prevent the higher levels of solvents from moving off site, two groundwater treatment systems are operating at the southern boundary of BNL. A third system is treating groundwater near the center of the Lab site, and a fourth, designed to address contamination that has moved off the Laboratory site, is currently under construction in an industrial park south of BNL.

Radioactive tritium has also been found in on-site groundwater at levels above drinking water standards. The source of the tritium was the High Flux Beam Reactor (HFBR) spent fuel pool. This pool was emptied in 1997. A pumping system has been installed south of the leading edge of the tritium plume, on BNL property, to prevent any further southward movement.

As previously reported, tritium levels immediately adjacent to the reactor have been detected at levels up to 1,600,000 picocuries per liter (pCi/l), above the drinking water standard of 20,000 pCi/l. A picocurie, or one-trillionth of a curie, is a measurement of radioactivity. Tritium at levels above the drinking water standard extend to a point approximately 2,600 feet south of the HFBR, about one mile north of the Lab's southern boundary. Non-HFBR related tritium at levels below the drinking water standard have historically been, and continue to be, detected in isolated off-site areas.

There are concentrated areas of strontium-90 groundwater contamination in three on-site locations, namely the waste concentration facility, the Brookhaven Graphite Research Reactor and pile fan sump area, and in an area that formerly contained 55 waste pits known as the "chemical holes." The chemical holes have been excavated to remove the source of this contamination, and off-site disposal of contaminated soils from this excavation is ongoing. Strontium-90 in these areas has been detected at levels up to 769 pCi/l, above the drinking water standard of 8 pCi/l. The HFBR is not a source of this strontium.

The Remedial Investigation Report also presents a human health and ecological risk assessment for the contamination if no cleanup were to take place. No significant ecological risks were found. The presence of solvents in the groundwater could potentially pose a human health risk to residents if their wells were used as a sole water source and contained contaminated water. Current human health risks from tritium and strontium-90 were found to be within the EPA's acceptable limits.

Feasibility Study - Cleanup alternatives evaluated

DOE used data gathered during the remedial investigation to identify potential remediation alternatives for VOCS, tritium and strontium-90 that would meet set "cleanup objectives." These objectives include: meeting drinking water standards in groundwater for VOCs, strontium-90 and tritium; completing cleanup of the groundwater in a timely manner; and preventing or minimizing further migration of contaminants.

For VOCs, the seven alternatives selected for detailed evaluation included one or more of the following: monitoring; construction of on- and off-site groundwater treatment systems; continuing operation of existing groundwater treatment systems; carrying out an on-site source removal action; and no action. The alternatives varied in the approaches used, the cost, the number and location of treatment systems, and the amount of time it would take to reach cleanup objectives.

For tritium, the eight alternatives retained for detailed evaluation included one or more of the following: natural attenuation (dilution, dispersion and decay); monitoring; continuing operation of the current tritium pumping system; placing the current tritium pumping system in "standby" mode; installing a low-flow groundwater extraction system immediately south of the HFBR and operating it to address any higher levels of tritium; installing additional extraction wells at the leading edge of the plume; and no action. The alternatives vary in the approaches used, the cost, how extracted water is managed and the amount of time it would take to reach cleanup objectives.

For strontium-90, the five alternatives selected for detailed evaluation included one or more of the following: natural attenuation; monitoring; construction of extraction wells and treatment systems; the use of "permeable barrier" technology to trap the strontium-90 underground and hold it while it decays; and no action. The alternatives vary in the approaches used, the cost, and the amount of time it would take to reach cleanup objectives.

Proposed Plan - DOE's proposed remedy

The U.S. Department of Energy has identified the following proposed remedy for Operable Unit III in the Proposed Plan.

For VOCs, the remedy includes constructing additional groundwater treatment systems on the BNL property, and off site on the Long Island Power Authority right-of-way; in two unpopulated areas on and east of North Street; on Brookhaven Airport property; and in the eastern portion of the industrial park located south of BNL and the Long Island Expressway. VOC-contaminated soils in one on-site location that pose a continuing threat to groundwater would be addressed as a "source removal action" or removal of a potential source of contamination. Operation of the existing groundwater treatment systems and groundwater monitoring would continue.

For tritium: Because the tritium is expected to decay to levels below drinking water standards before reaching the site boundary, the remedy includes monitored natural attenuation. Tritium has a half-life of 12.3 years. However, contingencies have been included to restart pumping if future monitoring indicates tritium at levels above drinking water standards may reach the site boundary. The existing tritium pumping system will be placed in standby mode, and its restart would be evaluated if tritium concentrations change significantly from expected levels. Additional extraction wells would be installed near the reactor and would be made operational if levels adjacent to the HFBR increase significantly. Elevated tritium levels could be seen in this area if higher concentrations of residual tritium migrate out from the soil beneath the HFBR. Groundwater monitoring would continue.

For strontium-90, the remedy includes constructing groundwater extraction and treatment systems for contamination in the area of the Brookhaven Graphite Research Reactor and pile fan sump, the waste concentration facility, and the chemical holes. Groundwater monitoring would continue.

The Operable Unit III Remedial Investigation Report, Operable Unit III Feasibility Study Report, and Operable Unit III Proposed Plan are now available for review at the Longwood and Mastics-Moriches-Shirley public libraries, as well as the BNL Research Library and the EPA's Region II library in Manhattan. The executive summaries of the Remedial Investigation Report and Feasibility Study, along with the entire Proposed Plan, can also be found online at http://www.oer.dir.bnl.gov/ou3doc.html. For more information, the public is invited to call John Carter, the DOE-Brookhaven Group Community and Government Relations Manager, at (516) 344-5195 or Eloise Gmur, BNL's Community Relations Supervisor, at (516) 344-6336.

The release of these documents and their associated comment period follows several public participation activities held by DOE and BNL to obtain input on the Operable Unit III investigation and potential cleanup approaches. Four roundtable discussions and a community workshop on Operable Unit III issues were held at the Lab in the fall of 1998, and comments and concerns expressed by attendees have been made part of the public record.

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. BNL is on the Superfund list due to past operations that have resulted in soil and groundwater contamination. Remediation work is conducted under the framework of an interagency agreement among the U.S. Department of Energy, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and N.Y. State Department of Environmental Conservation. The Department of Energy owns the BNL property and oversees and pays for all cleanup costs.

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