DOE News Release

Issued April 1, 1999

Or Gail Penny (DOE) 516/344-3429

For documents relating to this release, click here.


Department of Energy Seeks Public Comment On Brookhaven Lab Contaminated Soils Reports

Cleanup Options Presented

UPTON, NY - The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is seeking public comment on its proposal to clean up radiologically contaminated soils at Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL). Two reports are now available for review. The reports document the evaluation of alternatives for soil cleanup and the proposed alternatives for soil cleanup.

Public comment on these reports will 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 I Feasibility Study Report and the Operable Unit I Proposed Plan. The 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.

DOE will accept public comments on the proposed soil cleanup approach from April 1, 1999 through April 30, 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

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

The public will have an additional opportunity to provide comments during an April 22, 1999 public meeting at BNL's Berkner Hall from 7:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.

Public comments will be used to help select the final remedy for BNL's contaminated soils. The final decision will be documented in the Operable Unit I Record of Decision, due for release later this year.

Extent of Contamination - Remedial Investigation Results

The Feasibility Study and Proposed Plan address contaminated soils and sediments found in several areas of the BNL site, including operable units I, II/VII, IV and VI. The principal contaminants are radioactive elements, primarily strontium-90 and cesium-137. Elevated levels of heavy metals have also been found in some locations. All contaminated soils are confined to BNL property, and access to these areas is controlled as needed to protect employees and the public. The following is a summary of the areas requiring cleanup addressed in the two documents:

Former Hazardous Waste Management Facility (HWMF): The largest volume of contaminated soils containing the highest levels of contamination are located at the former HWMF. The HWMF was used from 1947 to 1997 as the central receiving, processing and storage facility for radioactive and hazardous wastes generated at BNL. Cesium-137 is the principal contaminant, at levels up to 180,000 picocuries per gram of soil. A picocurie, or one-trillionth of a curie, is a measurement of radioactivity. Strontium-90 was also detected at levels up to 1,300 picocuries per gram. In 1997, the Lab opened a new, state-of-the-art waste management facility to replace the HWMF.

Waste Concentration Facility: This facility has been used since 1949 to reduce the volume of liquid radioactive wastes prior to disposal. Three large storage tanks were removed in 1994. Six out-of-service underground storage tanks and associated piping still remain. Cesium-137 and strontium-90 are the principal contaminants at the facility, at levels up to 1,486 and 454 picocuries per gram, respectively.

Reclamation Facility and Sump Outfall Area: The reclamation facility was used from the late 1950s through the late 1960s to clean radioactive contaminants from clothing and equipment. Water used in the equipment decontamination process was discharged at the sump outfall area until 1969, resulting in soil contamination in the outfall area. Cesium-137 is the principal contaminant in soils at the sump outfall, at levels up to 2,800 picocuries per gram. Strontium-90 was detected at levels up to 140 picocuries per gram, and plutonium-239/240 was detected at levels up to 170 picocuries per gram.

Landscaping Soils: Low levels of cesium-137 (levels up to 348 picocuries per gram) have been detected in soils near several buildings in the center of the BNL site. At these locations, stockpiled soils from the HWMF were used as landscaping and fill material.

On-Site Basins: Sediments in several on-site man-made basins contain elevated levels of heavy metals including copper and zinc, and present an ecological risk to the tiger salamander, an endangered species in New York State. The salamander uses these basins for breeding.

Ash Pit: Low levels of radioactive elements and heavy metals were found in an ash pit, used from 1943 to 1963 to dispose of incinerator ash. Levels of radioactive elements were typical of those found in incinerator ash.

Feasibility Study

Cleanup alternatives evaluated DOE used data gathered during the Operable Unit I, IV and II/VII remedial investigations to identify potential remediation alternatives for contaminated soils that would meet set "cleanup goals." These goals are based on the potential future use of the site and allowable exposures to man-made radioactivity under industrial land use and residential land use conditions. The cleanup goals assume residential and industrial use will not occur for at least 50 years.

A soil cleanup goal of 67 picocuries per gram of cesium-137 has been established for the HWMF. Future industrial use is assumed for this area. A soils cleanup goal of 23 picocuries per gram of cesium-137 has been established for all other areas containing contaminated soils on the BNL site. Future residential use is assumed for these areas. To protect groundwater, the strontium-90 cleanup goal is 15 picocuries per gram, which wuld be protective under both industrial and residential scenarios.

The Feasibility Study details six cleanup alternatives for radiologically contaminated soils. The alternatives include one or more of the following: Excavation of contaminated soils; on-site containment and "capping"; off-site disposal; soil "washing"; and vitrification (melting soil so it will form a stable, rock-like mass as it cools).

Proposed Plan - DOE's proposed remedy

Based on the information documented in the feasibility study report, DOE has identified the following proposed remedy for Operable Unit I and other site radiologically contaminated soils: Large-scale excavation with disposal at an off-site permitted facility.

Under the proposed remedy, all radiologically contaminated soils above cleanup goals would be removed from the BNL site. In total, approximately 39,000 cubic yards of soil would be excavated. The out-of-service storage tanks and associated piping at the waste concentration facility will also be removed and disposed of off site. DOE is proposing this remedy because it provides the greatest protection of human health and the environment by physically removing the contaminated soils from the BNL site.

The proposed remedy for two of the on-site basins is excavation and off-site disposal of contaminated soils followed by wetlands reconstruction. The remaining basins will be addressed through institutional controls like access restriction and monitoring. BNL is developing a tiger salamander management plan to ensure future protection of salamander breeding grounds.

The proposed remedy for the ash pit is placement of a soil cap to prevent exposure of humans or wildlife to soil contaminants. Access controls and monitoring will ensure the effectiveness of the remedy.

Cleanup Actions to Date

Several fast-track "removal actions" have already addressed known and potential sources of contamination in Operable Unit I. These include the capping of all three landfills on the property, the excavation of 55 former waste pits, and the construction and operation of a groundwater treatment system at the Lab's southern boundary. In addition, an engineering evaluation and cost analysis report is currently being prepared for a potential removal action to address contaminated soils near a facility that produces compounds for medical research. These actions will all become part of the final remedy for Operable Unit I.

The Operable Unit I Feasibility Study Report and Operable Unit I Proposed Plan are now available for review at the Longwood and Mastics-Moriches-Shirley public libraries, as well as the BNL Research Library and EPA's Region II library in Manhattan. The executive summary of the Feasibility Study, along with the entire Proposed Plan, can also be found online at 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.

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 New York 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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