Superfund Information Systems: Site Profile

Superfund Site:

OAK RIDGE RESERVATION (USDOE)
OAK RIDGE, TN

Cleanup Activities

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Background

The Oak Ridge Reservation (ORR) site, a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) facility, covers nearly 35,000 acres and is located within and adjacent to the corporate limits of Oak Ridge, Tennessee, and approximately 20 miles west of Knoxville. A significant portion of the site (30%) is forested property that has not been impacted by releases of contamination.

ORR was established as part of the “Manhattan Project” to process natural material for use in nuclear weapons for the military during World War II. The ORR includes two active industrial areas Oak Ridge National Laboratory (X-10) and Y-12 with ongoing DOE missions and a third industrial area East Tennessee Technology Park (formerly K-25) with no future DOE mission.

Historical site operations at ETTP, ORNL and Y-12 generated a variety of radioactive, non-radioactive and mixed (radioactive and non-radioactive) hazardous wastes. Leakage from buried wastes, stored wastes, and operational activities from these facilities has resulted in hundreds of contaminated areas across the ORR site. Most contamination is located within DOE-controlled property where public access is restricted. Site wastes have also contaminated surface water and sediment outside ORR’s property boundaries, including the Lower East Fork Poplar Creek, the Poplar Creek/Clinch River and the lower Watts Bar Reservoir of the Tennessee River. In total, site contaminants have affected 82 river miles of the Clinch River and the Clinch River arm of the Watts Bar Reservoir. The contaminants are mostly located in river and lake bottom sediments. Dredging is prohibited in these areas unless approved by the EPA and TDEC.

The Oak Ridge National Lab (formerly X-10) is an active federal research facility that includes contaminated areas and structures used during the Manhattan Project.

The Y-12 National Nuclear Security Site is an active federal manufacturing and storage facility that is used to manufacture parts for nuclear weapons and stores the nation’s supply of enriched uranium.

The former federal K-25 Gaseous Diffusion Plant, now known as the East Tennessee Technology Park (ETTP), is a closed uranium enrichment processing facility that is undergoing cleanup in support of a non-DOE, private industrial park. The site’s long-term cleanup activities, mainly remediation of contaminated groundwater, are scheduled to be completed in 2028.

EPA placed the site on the Superfund program’s National Priorities List (NPL) in 1989. The site contains hundreds of contaminated areas located primarily in three industrial areas.  Surface water and sediment within and outside the ORR boundary, including parts of Poplar Creek, the Clinch River, and the lower Watts Bar Reservoir of the Tennessee River are also contaminated by activities conducted by DOE.

Superfund cleanup of the contamination at this NPL Site is being implemented under a Federal Facility Agreement (FFA) among the DOE ORR, the EPA and the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation. Exit

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What Has Been Done to Clean Up the Site?

1986
DOE leads the investigation and cleanup of the site, with oversight provided by EPA and Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) under the terms of the Federal Facility Agreement (FFA). The requirements of the FFA ensure that the environmental impacts associated with past and present activities at the site are thoroughly investigated; appropriate cleanup and corrective actions are developed and implemented; and, schedules, priorities and enforceable milestones for these cleanup activities are established to support funding the cleanup program. Since 1986, DOE has started investigations and/or remedial actions for approximately 54 operable units (OUs) in addition to many removal response actions.

1991
Since 1991, DOE, in cooperation with EPA and the state, has issued 30 remedial action decisions (Records of Decision or RODs) and removal action memoranda for the site. The FFA establishes the framework and schedule for cleanup activities, including EPA review and approval of cleanup documentation, and conducting oversight of the DOE cleanup actions. Schedules for cleanup are included in Appendices E and J to the FFA.  The current pace of cleanup activities at the ORR site, if maintained, is estimated to support a completion of all cleanup activities in 2047.

The U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Remediation Effectiveness Report provides an annual update on the status of Superfund cleanup activities at the ORR. Appendix E to the FFA includes the near-term cleanup schedules (current three years) and Appendix J includes the long-term cleanup schedules.

1995
Lower East Fork Poplar Creek (OU 10): A ROD addressed mercury contamination in sediments over a portion of the floodplain. The OU area is approximately 886 acres.

Lower Watts Bar Reservoir (OU 24): A final ROD issued in 1995 selected institutional controls that restrict dredging of creek sediments contaminated with Cesium-137 and the consumption of fish and turtles contaminated with mercury and PCBs. The OU area is approximately 18,237 acres. This action is ongoing.

1997
Clinch River and Poplar Creek (OU 04): An Interim ROD issued in 1997 for remedial action imposed institutional controls that restrict dredging of creek sediments and consumption of fish and turtles contaminated with mercury and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). The OU area is approximately 5,110 acres. This action is ongoing.

1998
Scarboro Community:  Based on exposure concerns and possible health impacts expressed by residents of the minority community of Scarboro, the DOE collected samples of surface water, sediment and soil in the community. In a separate event, the EPA also collected samples from the same general area for comparison. The results from both DOE and EPA investigations were consistent and no contamination was found at levels that were a threat to human health or the environment.

1999
CERCLA Waste Landfill (OU 13): A ROD issued in 1999 for the Environmental Management Waste Management Facility (EMWMF) land disposal facility selected on-site disposal for cleanup waste generated from other ORR OUs. The ROD called for the design, construction, operation and closure of an on-site earthen disposal facility located in East Bear Creek Valley. The EMWMF opened in 2002 on a 120-acre area of the site and contains six cells that are approximately the size of 20 football fields. Typical waste placed in the facility originates from dismantled buildings, contaminated soils and scrap metal piles. The capacity of the landfill is approximately 2.2 million cubic yards. This capacity is not enough for disposal of all ORR cleanup waste suitable for onsite disposal and the landfill is expected to be filled to capacity in approximately 2024. A new landfill is being proposed to accommodate future waste disposal needs.

2000
Melton Valley (OU 29): An Interim ROD issued in 2000 for the Melton Valley Watershed waste management sources included institutional controls and hydraulic isolation of the buried wastes using a series of caps, focused excavations and treatment zones, and water table lowering and diversion systems. The OU area is approximately 756 acres. Construction of the interim remedy was finished in 2007 and is undergoing long-term monitoring.

Bear Creek Valley Phase I (OU 32): The OU area is approximately 1779 acres. Under current funding, completion of the cleanup under this Interim ROD is expected in approximately 2029.
An Interim ROD issued in 2000 for the Phase I cleanup activities included the Boneyard/Burnyard, stored wastes at the Oil Landfarm, and the S-3 Pond Pathway 3 area groundwater contamination (to supplement the early removal response action for the S-3 Pond). The Boneyard/Burnyard remedial action included the excavation and placement of 57,000 cubic yards of soil in the onsite landfill (EMWMF). A protective cap was placed over the remaining contaminated soil. This action was completed in 2003. The removal and disposal of the wastes stored at the Oil Landfarm was completed in 2001. The remaining cleanup activity for the S-3 Pond under this ROD, has been deferred by DOE due to funding limitations. The removal action addressing a portion of the S-3 Pond release was terminated due to effectiveness issues. No response actions are currently underway for the S-3 Pond release. 

2002
Bethel Valley (OU 30): An interim ROD issued in 2002 included a long-term cleanup plan for contamination sources, including buildings and disposal areas, and contaminated soils in the area of the Oak Ridge National Lab. This OU area is approximately 1,779 acres and is divided into Exposure Units (EUs) for cleanup confirmation. The cleanup required further investigation using real-time assessments to determine excavation requirements and demonstrate when excavations are complete. Using funding provided by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (i.e., Recovery Act), many of the old contaminated buildings with legacy waste were demolished and disposed of in the onsite CERCLA Landfill. Higher activity radioactive waste was sent to the Nevada Test Site, including Corehole 8 soils, Buildings 2026, Isotope Row, and miscellaneous General Maintenance facilities. The Recovery Act projects were completed in 2013. Building 3038 and the North Characterization area, originally included in the Recovery Act projects were too costly to finish with Recovery Act funding and will be addressed in the future. Under current funding, completion of the cleanup under this Interim ROD is not expected until approximately 2045.

East Tennessee Technology Park, Zone 1 (OU 15): An Interim ROD issued in 2002 includes cleanup activities to address selected sources and contaminated soils from approximately1,400 acres. This area was divided into Exposure Units (EUs) for risk-based cleanup confirmation over each EU area. Cleanup activities included digging up contaminated soil, burial ground sources, and disposing of contaminated surface debris piles. The cleanup required further investigation using real-time assessments to determine excavation requirements and demonstrate when excavations are complete. As of 2015, DOE has cleaned up approximately 1,300 of the 1,400 acres or made determinations that the area(s) meet cleanup standards for industrial use. DOE placed nearly 3,000 acres of the ETTP area into a conservation easement that includes a Wildlife Management Area and a State Natural Area.

A Final  Zone 1 Record of Decision for ETTP Soils is planned. However, newly identified areas of potential contamination were found and require evaluation to determine if cleanup is necessary. This final ROD will set soil cleanup goals for ecological receptors within the Zone 1 Area. 

Upper East Fork Poplar Creek Phase I (OU 28): An Interim ROD issued in 2002 selected several source control remedies to control the spread of mercury from the Y-12 plant into the onsite portion of East Fork Poplar Creek, referred to as the Upper East Fork Poplar Creek (UEFPC). The major actions are the hydraulic isolation of contaminated soils in the West End Mercury Area (WEMA), the treatment of the discharge of groundwater into UEFPC at Outfall 51 (i.e., Big Spring Water Treatment Plant Water Treatment Plant), and the removal of contaminated sediments from UEFPC and Lake Reality. The WEMA is a major source of mercury contamination. Two million pounds of mercury could not be accounted for by the site operators and approximately 700,000 pounds was estimated to have been lost to the environment. Recovery Act funding supported the completion of  the Y-12 Scrap Yard and Soils Project, disposition of Legacy Radioactive Material from Buildings Alpha 5, Beta 4, and the top 2 feet of mercury contaminated soil from the former 81-10 mercury recovery facility (EU-9). These Recovery Act projects were completed in 2013. Under current funding, completion of the building demolition of the three main WEMA buildings and surrounding soils under this Interim ROD is expected in approximately 2036.

An amendment to this ROD was approved in 2016 -to significantly expand the control of mercury migration in UEFPC being released from the WEMA. This project is currently under construction to build- a water treatment plant at Outfall 200 that will capture and treat significantly more mercury releases than captured and treated by the Big Spring Water Treatment Plant.

2005
East Tennessee Technology Park, Zone 2 (OU 15): A ROD issued in 2005 includes cleanup to address soil and subsurface structures within the fenced security area generally referred to as the Main Plant Area. Former gaseous diffusion plant operations took place in this area. This portion of the OU is approximately 800 acres and has been divided up into EUs for risk-based cleanup confirmation over each EU area. DOE has completed cleanup confirmation of 374 of the 800 EU areas in Zone 2. DOE demolished several hundred structures and continues to conduct investigations. DOE plans to complete the Zone 2 demolition activities in 2020.

2006
UEFPC Soils Phase II ROD (OU 50): An Interim ROD issued in 2006 included a long-term cleanup plan for contaminated soils in the Y-12 area. This area is is divided into Exposure Units (EUs) for cleanup confirmation. Cleanup of contaminated soils under this ROD will be prioritized to take place in a phased approach, coordinated with demolition of the three WEMA contaminated structures. The cleanup requires further investigation using real-time assessments to determine excavation requirements and to demonstrate when excavations are complete. The OU area is approximately 716 acres. Under current funding, cleanup of all soils in the UEFPC OU are expected to be completed in approximately 2042.

2012
A Final  Zone 1 Record of Decision for ETTP Soils is planned. However, newly identified areas of potential contamination were found and require evaluation to determine if cleanup is necessary. This final ROD will set soil cleanup goals for ecological receptors within the Zone 1 Area.

Recent
Recently, down-gradient groundwater monitoring in the vicinity of the Clinch River has shown low-levels of contamination have migrated to the Clinch River. Additionally, some low levels of contamination have been detected offsite directly across from the Clinch River. The offsite contamination is not detected on a consistent basis, and detections that have occurred are at very low levels that are not considered to pose a threat to human health or the environment. Further studies of the potential for offsite groundwater contamination are underway.

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What Is the Current Site Status?

Due to the size and complexity of environmental issues at the site, 54 operable units (OUs) have been identified to date. DOE groups most of these OUs in one of five watershed cleanup areas on the ORR: Melton Valley; Bethel Valley; Bear Creek Valley; Upper East Fork Poplar Creek; and the East Tennessee Technology Park Area. Approximately 80 individual remedial and removal action decisions have been made at these sites.

Cleanup projects are prioritized to establish enforceable milestones that will serve as the basis for requesting and allocating resources to the highest priorities. The prioritization of projects and subsequent scheduling establishes the near-term enforceable cleanup schedule and the long-term cleanup plan through to completion of all NPL site cleanup. The top two priorities address contamination that poses an imminent threat to human health and controlling and cleaning up contaminants that have migrated off site.

Currently, the top priority of controlling human exposure to releases is being achieved through cleanup actions or institutional controls. Groundwater studies are underway to determine the extent of contamination and appropriate remediation in additition to whether contamination migrates offsite in groundwater.

The FFA establishes the terms and conditions for planning and executing the cleanup of the site, including enforceable schedules.  The focus of near-term cleanup activities include:

  • ETTP Zone 1 Area final cleanup activities include completion of surficial soil cleanup
  • ETTP Zone 2 Area includes completing building demolition efforts and surficial soil cleanup
  • Investigating groundwater contamination to determine appropriate actions
  • Evaluation of a potential new landfill to dispose of waste generated from Superfund cleanup actions
  • a large-scale water treatment plant at Y-12 National Nuclear Security Site (Y-12) to control the migration of mercury leaving the Oak Ridge Reservation (ORR) in East Fork Poplar Creek.

The Outfall 200 Water Treatment Plant at Y-12 is currently under construction to address the priority of controlling offsite mercury releases.

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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.

In 1999, the Parties to the Federal Facility Agreement (FFA) signed a Land Use Control Assurance Plan (LUCAP) Memorandum of Understanding. The purpose of the LUCAP is to establish and implement procedures to assure the long-term effectiveness of Land Use Controls (LUCs) being relied upon to protect human health and the environment at specific contaminated portions of the Oak Ridge Reservation undergoing FFA cleanup.  The LUCAP also required development of LUC Implementation Plans (LUCIPs) as components of remedies relying on LUCs. These LUCIPs are to be appended to the LUCAP so that all LUCs can be readily accessed by review of the LUCAP. All LUCIPs must also be certified annually in the Remediation Effectiveness Report (RER) to ensure LUCs are continuing to be implemented. The annual RER is available for review.

In total, site contaminants have affected 82 river miles of the Clinch River and the Clinch River arm of the Watts Bar Reservoir. The contaminants are mostly located in river and lake bottom sediments. Dredging is prohibited in these areas unless approved by the EPA and TDEC.

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Sampling and Monitoring

DOE issues an annual report entitled the Remedial Effectiveness Report. The RER summarizes the status of its routine monitoring activities for remedial actions underway and general contamination monitoring in the five major watershed areas. DOE has issued several Comprehensive Monitoring Plans that establish the sampling objectives for these routine watershed area monitoring activities. The results of the monitoring activities are evaluated to determine whether actions need to be implemented to reduce the impacts to human health and the environment.

Additional information about site monitoring activities and reporting can be found in the DOE Information Center and the Oak Ridge Environmental Information System.

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Enforcement Information

For many years, EPA has been working with its federal and state partners to clean up the site. In 1992, DOE, EPA and TDEC signed a Federal Facilities Agreement (FFA). The FFA establishes the terms and conditions for planning and executing the site’s cleanup, including enforceable schedules to ensure timely completion of site cleanup. Under the site’s FFA, the parties also evaluate the entire cleanup program and re-establish priorities annually. Parties conduct cleanup planning and set enforceable schedules in FFA Appendix E. FFA Appendix J includes the program’s entire duration and long-term cleanup strategy. The principles and process for setting enforceable milestones in support of budget requests can be found at the following link: FFERDC Report.

Since 2009, EPA and TDEC have undertaken enforcement actions to address cleanup milestones that were not achieved. Stipulated penalties assessed by both EPA and TDEC were in excess of $800,000 for events related to the following projects and milestones:

  • Failure to start and complete the response action on schedule for the ETTP Ponds Project.
  • Failure to accomplish three milestones for the K-25/27 Building Demolition Project at the ETTP.
  • Failure to meet a milestone for ground water cleanup at the ETTP

Additionally, several disputes have been raised and resolved through both informal and formal dispute resolution procedures. The resolution of these disputes has improved the cleanup process and its documentation of cleanup activities consistent with the CERCLA, the NCP and the FFA.

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