Bubble Chamber Spill Area

July 1989

Bubble Chamber Spill Area

Historic aerial view of the 80" Bubble Chamber Complex c. July 22, 1966. 1. AGS Injector Building 2. AGS magnet ring tunnel 3. Main experimental area 4. 80" Bubble Chamber particle beam array 5. 80" Chamber Building 6. Transformers 7. water cooling tower 8. gas storage area 9. safety sphere 10. beam direction in AGS


The Bubble Chambers were particle detectors first an 80" liquid hydrogen bubble chamber that began operation in 1963 and was replaced with a 7-foot chamber built in 1974 that operated at BNL through the late 1970s. The Bubble Chamber complex was located just north of the Alternating Gradient Synchrotron. The complex consisted of a particle beam array, the 80-inch chamber building, transformers for electric power, a water-cooling tower, a gas storage area, and the safety dump sphere.

The bubble chambers were used to see the tracks of charged particles that were released following the collision of an accelerators beam of particles into a fixed target. They were designed to employ the same effect that causes bubbles to rise in a bottle of beer when the pressure inside the bottle is released as the cap is opened. The bubble trail was then photographed. Thousands of photos were taken and scanned for evidence of new particles produced in the collisions. Among the new particles discovered at BNL during this time were the sigma-zero, the omega minus, and the charmed lambda. Technological advances eventually made the bubble chambers obsolete and they were dismantled.

The bubble chambers were filled with liquid hydrogen which was chilled to super-cold temperatures of minus 415 degrees Fahrenheit and included glass lenses and windows for photographing the bubble trails. These construction components may have added to the potential for leaks.


During the 1980s, the Bubble Chamber Area was used for the temporary storage of drum and liquid-filled scintillation counters. Scintillation oil is mainly composed of mineral oil and trimethylbenzene. Several documented spills of transformer oil and scintillation oil to the ground were documented. In August 1987, approximately 100 gallons of transformer oil leaked onto the pavement. Most of the oil was contained on the pavement, but a small amount was reported to have reached adjacent soils. In July 1989, a pipe break resulted in the release of 15 to 20 gallons of scintillation oil to the ground. Most of the free oil and associated contaminated soils were remediated.

Remedial Action

The Bubble Chamber Spill Area was evaluated as part of the Operable Unit III Remedial Investigation and cleanup was documented in the OU III Record of Decision. Sources for elevated 1,1,1-trichloroethane (TCA) found in the groundwater near the Waste Concentration Facility and Alternating Gradient Synchrotron were suspected to be from the cesspools that had been associated with the Bubble Chamber complex (Area of Concern, or AOC 14).

The cesspools and septic tanks in the Bubble Chamber complex area were removed as part of Cesspool Removal Action III (Removal Actions are cleanups where known contamination is dealt with as quickly as possible to remove the potential for it to affect human health or the environment.). Excavation work under the Removal Action began in August 1995.

On-site plans for groundwater cleanup and monitoring for the OU III volatile organic compounds (VOC) plume were implemented in June 1997. The OU III Pump and Treat System pumped groundwater from six wells located at the site boundary through an air stripping tower and recharged it to a new recharge basin located approximately one mile north of BNLs southern boundary. The system is expected to operate through 2013; after approval to shut the system down is obtained, the plume will continue to be monitored through 2030.

Community Outreach

On February 14, 1994, a legal notice was published announcing the availability of the Cesspools Removal Action III Engineering Evaluation / Cost Analysis (EE/CA) for public review and comment.

There were many additional opportunities for stakeholders to provide input into the Operable Unit III Proposed Plan and Feasibility Study. The OU III Plan addressed both on-and off-site groundwater cleanup. Community outreach included a 60-day public comment period held from March 1, 1999 through April 30, 1999, and a public meeting held on March 24, 1999, presentations and discussions at the Laboratory's Community Advisory Council meetings, site tours, and workshops. Fact sheets and the cleanupdate newsletter were mailed to over 2,300 stakeholders, articles appeared in the weekly employee newsletter the Bulletin, and briefings were given to elected officials.

In response to stakeholder comments several modifications were made to the proposed cleanup plan including the addition of the western southern boundary treatment system after concerns about potential impacts to the Carmans River were raised.

Documents / Links

OU III Record of Decision