BROOKHAVEN NATIONAL LABORATORY (USDOE)
On this page:
- What Has Been Done to Clean Up the Site?
- What Is the Current Site Status?
- Activity and Use Limitations
On related pages:
The Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL) site is a research and development facility owned by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). It covers 5,265 acres or, approximately 8 square miles, in Upton, New York.
The Army used the site as Camp Upton during World Wars I and II. Since 1947, BNL has been operated by contractors first to the Atomic Energy Commission and now to the DOE, the site owners. Since March 1998, Brookhaven Science Associates has operated BNL for the DOE. BNL conducts basic and applied research in high energy nuclear and solid state physics, fundamental material and structure properties and the interaction of matter, nuclear medicine, biomedical and environmental sciences, and selected energy technologies. To conduct this research BNL designs, builds, and runs installations for scientific research, such as particle accelerators and nuclear reactors.
Most of its main facilities comprise an area of approximately 900 acres near the center of the site. Outlying facilities cover about 550 acres and include the hazardous waste management facility (HWMF), agricultural research fields, landfill areas, and a sewage treatment plant. The remainder of the facility is largely wooded. BNL lies over groundwater that is designated as a sole source aquifer. BNL, the Suffolk County Water Authority, and private well users draw drinking water within 3 miles of the facility. Recently, about 1600 users of private wells south of BNL have been connected to public water. The headwaters of the Peconic River are on BNL property in a freshwater wetland upgradient of the known areas of concern. Surface water within 3 miles downstream of the site is used for recreation.
Environmental contamination at the lab has resulted from accidental spills and historical storage and disposal of chemical and radiological materials.The DOE, the EPA and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) have negotiated an Interagency Agreement to investigate and clean up environmental problems at BNL, whichbecame effective in May 1992. Many cleanup activities have been completed; other cleanup efforts are ongoing.
The site is divided into seven Operable Units (OUs), to streamline cleanup efforts, which are described in depth below.
What Has Been Done to Clean Up the Site?
The DOE, EPA and DEC have studied the site and identified 32 Areas of Concern (AOCs). The agencies have grouped these AOCs into six operable units as described below, and DOE has made environmental progress by planning and completing the following remedial actions at each Operable Unit. Three other Records of Decision have been signed that are not affiliated with designated OUs.
OU I: Radiologically contaminated soils on the BNL site. The former hazardous waste management facility (FHWMF) within this operable unit contained extensive radiological soil contamination. A cleanup proposal was presented to the public in the Spring of 1999. The DOE, EPA selected a final remedy in a Record of Decision, or ROD, with NYSDEC concurrence, in September 1999. The remedy requires excavation and off-site disposal of the contaminated soil, wetlands restoration, monitoring and site use controls. Remedial action work began in 2002 and finished in 2005. In December 2013, the FHWMF perimeter soils was included as a sub-area of concern and is included under Operable Unit 1. These soils were remediated in September 2014. Volatile Organic Compound (VOC) groundwater contamination on BNL property associated with the Current Landfill and FHWMF is documented under the OU I ROD.
OU II: Brookhaven Graphite Research Reactor (BGRR) Areas/Alternating Gradient Synchrotron (AGS) Scrapyard: This operable unit addresses scattered areas of radiologically contaminated soil throughout the site. The remedial investigation finished in late 1996. To select a consistent remedy for all radiologically contaminated soil, the final remedy was evaluated and selected with operable unit 1. The DOE started the design of this remedy in the spring of 2000. Remedial action has been completed. The Brookhaven Graphite Research Reactor itself is addressed under another operable unit and ROD (see below).
OU III: Site-wide Groundwater: This operable unit addresses extensive groundwater contamination throughout the site. On and off-site VOC groundwater contamination was discovered during the investigation. Removal actions have been taken to prevent further contaminant movement and protect the public. The tritium plume from the High Flux Beam Reactor has been added to this operable unit. Plumes of strontium-90 contamination from the old reactors and waste disposal units are also addressed in this operable unit. The remedy selected in the June 2000 ROD consists of various pump-and-treat systems (for the VOC, tritium and strontium plumes) with some off-site disposal of highly tritiated water at the High Flux Beam Reactor. The remedy also incorporates several ongoing removal actions. Remedial designs for the groundwater remedies began in October 2000. Predesign characterization and/or pilot studies started in August 2001. The systems are all in place and operating.
In May 2005, site agencies issued an Explanation of Significant Differences, or ESD to the Operable Unit 3 ROD, to allow for the time and resources needed to remediate strontium in the groundwater. Annual groundwater reports summarize each of the groundwater systems and, where necessary, recommend modifications.
Operable Unit IV: Central Steam Facility. This operable unit addresses soil and groundwater in the central part of the site contaminated with VOCs from a ruptured tank. The remedial investigation and feasibility study are complete. The DOE issued a Proposed Remedial Action Plan in December 1995. The ROD selecting the remedy was signed in March 1996. The DOE is using air sparging and soil vapor extraction to clean up VOCs in soil and groundwater. The system is in place; it started operating in the fall of 1997. During the investigation, the DOE removed about 1,400 tons of contaminated soil and disposed of it off site.STP
OU V: Peconic River/Sewage Treatment Plant: This operable unit addresses contaminated sediments in the Peconic River and the sewage treatment plant. However, because of scheduling differences between the two sites, they were separated. The sediments in the Peconic River were known to be contaminated with mercury, silver, PCBs and low levels of radionuclides such as cesium-137. Samples were taken in the Peconic River on site and all the way down the river to the Peconic Bay to assess radiological contaminants. The operable unit’s January 2005 ROD selected excavation of sediments from the river as the remedy. A January 2002 ROD approved excavation for the sewage treatment plant. Remedial action for both these sites has been completed. Since December, 2014, 140 sediment samples were collected at the Peconic River as a follow-up to elevated mercury concentrations identified in the area during ongoing long term monitoring activities. Discussions are ongoing between EPA, DOE and NYDEC as to what the next steps and path forward will be regarding these elevated levels of mercury.
OU VI: Upland Recharge Area: Agricultural testing at the site resulted in groundwater contamination with ethylene dibromide (EDB). In the fall of 1996, the DOE proposed an alternative approach to cleaning it up. As a precautionary measure, the DOE connected residences in the area where groundwater contamination is expected to move off site to the public water system. No one is currently drinking contaminated water. More data has been gathered since 1996 and a final remedy was selected in March 2001. Construction of the system is complete and the system is operating.
Brookhaven Graphite Research Reactor (BGRR): Cleanup of the reactor has taken place in stages. Removals have addressed various components (e.g., air cooling fans, aboveground ducts, the canal and water treatment house, exhaust cooling coils and filters, primary liners, and various subsurface contaminated soils). Work on the BGRR (e.g., removal of the graphite pile, biological shield) has been completed. A close-out report has been issued for the engineered cap and the monitoring system installation. Dismantling of the reactor finished in June 2012.
g-2 Experiment area, BLIP facility, and Underground Storage Tanks: Particle accelerator operations at the former g-2 experiment area (AOC 16T) and BLIP facility (AOC 16K) have resulted in the activation of soil used for shielding. The primary contaminants of concern in the activated soils are tritium and sodium-22. The infiltration of rainwater through the activated soils can leach tritium and sodium-22 from the soils and carry them into the groundwater. To reduce the ability of rainwater to infiltrate the activated soils, a number of stormwater management controls have been implemented. In addition, eight USTs from several locations across the site were removed between 1988 and 1996, and confirmatory soil sampling following the tank removals indicated no environmental impacts.
High Flux Beam Reactor (HFBR): The ROD was approved in April 2009. Since then, the control rod blades were removed and the other equipment has been removed. Underground utilities and associated soils have been removed. The dismantling of Building 802 (Fan House) has been completed and a close-out report was issued. Stack will be removed by 2020.
PCB-contaminated Soil: In the summer of 1992, about 260 cubic yards (162 tons) of PCB- and oil-contaminated soil was dug up and disposed of off-site. This eliminated potential exposure to on-site workers and movement of the contamination to groundwater.
Mercury-contaminated Soil: In the spring of 1993, about 252 tons of mercury-contaminated soil were dug up, treated and disposed of off-site. This eliminated potential exposure to on-site workers and movement of the contaminants in the environment.
Operable Unit 4: In the spring of 1994, about 1,400 tons of visibly contaminated soils containing oil and solvents were removed and disposed of off-site. Construction of the soil vapor extraction/air sparging system selected in a March 1996 ROD finished in November 1997. The system is operating to remove VOCs from soil and groundwater. The system has removed about 24 pounds of VOCs
Cesspools: Since the spring of 1994, 25 contaminated cesspools and their contents have been removed and disposed of off-site. This has eliminated potential sources of groundwater contamination.
Current Landfill: During the summer and fall of 1995, this 8-acre area was covered with a low permeability cap. This eliminated a source of groundwater contamination
Former Landfill Area: During the summer and fall of 1996, this 12-acre area was covered with a low permeability cap. This eliminated a source of groundwater contamination.
VOC and Strontium-contaminated Groundwater: Eleven groundwater pump-and-treat systems are in operation. These systems have extracted and treated about 23 billion gallons of VOC-contaminated groundwater and 143 million gallons of strontium-contaminated groundwater. Over 7,300 pounds of VOCs and 30 millicuries of strontium have been removed. About 105 million gallons of contaminated groundwater are treated each month.
Tritium-contaminated Groundwater: Since May 1997, a groundwater extraction and reinjection system has managed about 334 million gallons of tritium-contaminated groundwater, providing hydraulic containment. In December 1997, the source of the groundwater contamination, the spent fuel pool at the High Flux Beam Reactor, was drained of about 65,000 gallons of radiologically contaminated water
Interim Landfill: During the summer and fall of 1997, this 1-acre area was covered with a low permeability cap. This eliminated a potential source of groundwater contamination.
Chemical/Animal Pits and Glass Holes: During the summer and fall of 1997, about 20,800 tons (13,000 cubic yards) of contaminated soil and laboratory debris were dug up from about 55 disposal holes and prepared for eventual off-site disposal. Contaminants include pesticides, metals and radionuclides. This has eliminated sources of groundwater contamination and removed highly contaminated material for off-site disposal.
Carbon Tetrachloride Tank and Groundwater: In the fall of 1998, a tank that contained residues of carbon tetrachloride was removed and disposed of off-site. Groundwater nearby is highly contaminated because of releases from the tank. Pumping of the contaminated groundwater started in February 1999. About 155 million gallons of contaminated water have been treated, removing about 350 pounds of carbon tetrachloride. The system has met the cleanup goals and has been dismantled.
Peconic River: During phase 1 excavation, about 12,988 cubic yards of sediment was removed, mostly from on-site areas. The phase 2 excavation removed about 8,200 cubic yards of sediment from off-site areas (e.g., upstream and downstream of Manor Road). The excavation removed mercury contamination and other contaminants such as silver, copper and PCBs. With the excavation complete, the river was monitored to make sure the actions taken remain protective. During annual sampling of the river from 2011-2015, elevated mercury levels were again found in the sediment. A plan is currently being put together to address the areas in which the elevated mercury levels were located. It is expected that another sediment removal of the contaminated areas will occur by the end of 2016.
Since the last Five-Year Review, several additional remedy optimizations were accomplished. These include the addition of extraction wells associated with the Middle Road, OU III South Boundary, and Industrial Park groundwater treatment systems. These extraction wells were added to allow for the capture and treatment of the deeper VOC contamination identified. A new groundwater treatment system was added near the Building 96 treatment system in 2012 to capture and treat a plume of Freon-11 associated with Building 452. This system successfully remediated the plume and was shut down in March 2016. In 2013, the Former Hazardous Waste Management Facility (HWMF) Perimeter Soils were designated as Sub-Area of Concern 1J. The final phase of radiological soil cleanup at this area was completed in 2014. From 2014 through 2016, the former Waste Concentration Facility Buildings 810 and 811 were demolished, waste transfer lines were removed, and excavation of radiologically contaminated soil was completed. This action is expected to further reduce Sr-90 contamination in the soil, thus helping to meet the groundwater cleanup objective.
What Is the Current Site Status?
The status of cleanup at BNL varies by OU, described below:
Operable Unit I: The remedy is expected to be protective of human health and the environment upon attainment of groundwater cleanup goals, and in the interim, exposure pathways that could result in unacceptable risks are being controlled. All soil cleanup actions are complete and the groundwater treatment system was shut down and placed in standby mode in 2013 since the capture goal for VOCs was met. The attainment of groundwater cleanup goals for VOCs is expected to require 30 years or less to achieve (by 2030). Strontium-90 in groundwater is expected to attenuate to near the DWS at the site boundary. In the interim, exposure pathways that could result in unacceptable risks are being controlled. Institutional controls are preventing exposure to, or the ingestion of, contaminated groundwater and soil. Long-term protectiveness of the remedy will be verified by monitoring the movement and remediation of the plume. Current monitoring data indicate that the remedies are effective and they are functioning as required to achieve the groundwater cleanup goals.
Operable Unit II: Remedial actions for the AOCs in this OU are documented in the OU I and OU III RODs, except for BLIP and the g-2 tritium plume, which are documented in another ROD. Since there is no ROD or remedial action for this OU, a protectiveness statement cannot be prepared. A protectiveness statement for the g-2/BLIP/UST AOCs is identified below.
Operable Unit III: The remedy is expected to be protective of human health and the environment upon attainment of groundwater cleanup goals. In the interim, exposure pathways that could result in unacceptable risks are being controlled. All soil cleanup actions are complete and all groundwater treatment systems are operational, in standby mode, or decommissioned. The attainment of groundwater cleanup goals is expected to require: 30 years or less to achieve MCLs for VOCs and tritium in the Upper Glacial aquifer (by 2030); 40 years and 70 years or less to achieve MCLs for Sr-90 at the former Chemical Holes plume and the BGRR/WCF plumes, respectively (by 2040 and 2070, respectively); 65 years or less to achieve MCLs for VOCs in the Magothy aquifer (by 2065). Exposure pathways that could result in unacceptable risks are being controlled. Site-specific institutional controls are preventing exposure to contaminated groundwater and soil. Long-term protectiveness of the remedies will be verified by continuing to monitor the movement and remediation of the plumes. Current monitoring data indicate that the remedies are functioning as required to achieve the groundwater cleanup goals.
Operable Unit IV: The remedy is protective of human health and the environment. Exposure pathways that could result in unacceptable risks are being controlled. The groundwater cleanup goals have been met for the VOCs/SVOCs present at the 1977 oil/solvent spill site and the treatment system has been dismantled. Institutional controls are preventing exposure to contaminated soil and groundwater. All threats at the site have been addressed through the installation of fencing and warning signs, and the implementation of institutional controls. Additional groundwater characterization performed in 2011 and 2015 (and updated groundwater modeling) verified that the remaining Sr-90 contamination in groundwater will remain in the central portion of the site and attenuate to below MCLs by 2034.
Operable Unit V: The remedy is protective of human health and the environment, and in the interim, exposure pathways that could result in unacceptable risks are being controlled. Revegetation of remediated areas has been completed. The 10 years of post-cleanup, long-term monitoring has demonstrated the effectiveness of the Peconic River cleanup to mitigate potential human and ecological effects. The soil cleanup goals for the STP filter beds/berms and the groundwater goals have been met. The 2004/2005 and the 2011 supplemental sediment cleanup of the Peconic River met the remediation goals of the ROD. Long-term monitoring has demonstrated the effectiveness of the Peconic River cleanup and it is recommended that further monitoring of the Peconic River be discontinued. Supplemental remediation in one small area will be completed.
Operable Unit VI: The remedy is expected to be protective of human health and the environment upon attainment of the groundwater cleanup goals. In the interim, exposure pathways that could result in unacceptable risks are being controlled. The EDB groundwater treatment system is operational. The attainment of groundwater cleanup goals is expected to require 30 years or less to achieve the MCL for EDB in the Upper Glacial aquifer (by 2030). Exposure pathways that could result in unacceptable risks (e.g., off-site potable water supply) are being controlled and site-specific institutional controls are preventing exposure to, or the ingestion of, contaminated groundwater.
BGRR: The remedy is protective of human health and the environment. Exposure pathways that could result in unacceptable risks are being controlled. The remedy is protective since the graphite pile and bioshield were removed and the final engineered cap was installed. Institutional controls are preventing exposure to contaminated structures, soil, and groundwater. All threats at the site have been addressed through removal or stabilization of the radiological inventory, excavation of contaminated soil, infiltration management, installation of signs, building access controls, and the implementation of specific institutional controls for the structures, soil, and groundwater. Long-term protectiveness of the remedy will be verified by continuing to perform health and safety monitoring, periodic structural inspections of Building 701, water intrusion monitoring, preventive maintenance of the infiltration management system, and groundwater monitoring required as part of the OU III ROD and the ESD.
g-2/BLIP/USTs: The remedy defined in the ROD is expected to be protective of human health and the environment upon attainment of groundwater cleanup goals. In the interim, exposure pathways that could result in unacceptable risks are being controlled. Groundwater monitoring in the downgradient portion of the plume is complete, however monitoring of the source area continues. Institutional controls designed to prevent exposure to contaminated structures, soil, and groundwater, are in place. Long-term protectiveness of the remedy will be verified by continuing inspections and maintenance of the g-2 and BLIP facility stormwater controls, and groundwater monitoring required by the ROD.
HFBR: The completed remedy is expected to be protective of human health and the environment, and in the interim, exposure pathways that could result in unacceptable risks are being controlled. The remedy is expected to be protective upon completion of the near-term actions (demolition of the stack), and the segmentation, removal, and disposal of the remaining HFBR structures, systems, and components (including the reactor vessel, internals, thermal shield and biological shield) 90 following a safe storage decay period (not to exceed 65 years). In the interim, exposure pathways that could result in unacceptable risks are being controlled. Institutional controls are preventing exposure to contaminated structures, soil, and groundwater. All threats at the site are being addressed through removal or stabilization of the radiological inventory, excavation of contaminated soil, infiltration management, installation of signs, building access controls, and the implementation of specific institutional controls for the structures, soil and groundwater. Long-term protectiveness of the remedy will be verified by continuing to perform health and safety monitoring, periodic structural inspections of the reactor confinement building and stack, water intrusion monitoring, preventive maintenance of the infiltration management system, and groundwater monitoring required as part of the OU III ROD.
Activity and Use Limitations
At this site, activity and use limitations that EPA calls institutional controls are in place. Institutional controls play an important role in site remedies because they reduce exposure to contamination by limiting land or resource use. They also guide human behavior. For instance, zoning restrictions prevent land uses – such as residential uses – that are not consistent with the level of cleanup.
For more background, see Institutional Controls.
Institutional controls are administered as per the BNL Land Use Controls Management Plan (LUCMP) (BNL 2013a) which was initially issued in 2003. LUICs will be maintained for as long as necessary in order to ensure performance of the completed remedies as described and documented in the BNL RODs. The AOC-specific institutional controls are documented on fact sheets stored on the BNL LUIC website (secure and not available to the public.) Planning for any work at the site that may potentially disturb a formerly remediated area requires a review of the website. ICs are deployed at BNL to prevent exposure to residual environmental contamination and to ensure the long-term effectiveness of the remedies.