OVERVIEW OF THE TONAWANDA, NY
FUSRAP NUCLEAR WASTE SITE


TONAWANDA'S MANHATTAN PROJECT LEGACY

The Tonawanda, N.Y. FUSRAP Site consists of five properties: Linde (now Praxair),

[Map showing locations of Tonawanda Site properties]

Ashland 1, Ashland 2, Seaway and the Town of Tonawanda landfill. These properties, as well as area ground and surface waters, were contaminated with radioactive wastes resulting from the uranium ore refinery operations conducted in Tonawanda by the U.S. Army's top secret Manhattan Engineer District (MED), (commonly known as "the Manhattan Project" which produced uranium for the world's first uranium atomic bombs, including the Hiroshima bomb), and after the war by the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission (AEC).

The uranium refinery operated solely under contracts with the federal government. Known during the war as the Ceramics Plant, the refinery consisted of existing Linde Air Products Company buildings (principally Building 14: the pilot plant) and several buildings built by MED: Buildings 30, 31, 37, and 38.

Between 1942 and 1946, 8,000 tons of filter cake residues, resulting from the processing of domestic uranium ores and residues at the Linde facility, were dumped on the ground in a layer 1 to 5 feet thick at the 10.8 acre Haist property (now known as Ashland 1). This property was first leased and subsequently purchased by MED in 1944. Another 20,500 tons of high-radium-content residues from the processing of African pitchblende ores were taken to the Lake Ontario Ordnance Works site near Lewiston, NY. And 154 tons of residues were taken to Middlesex, NJ.

The residues dumped at the Haist property were known to have an average uranium content of 0.54 percent by weight and, therefore, were "source material", as defined at that time in the Atomic Energy Commission's (AEC) regulations at 10 CFR 40, "Control of Source Material", Section 40.2:

the term "source material" means any material, except fissionable material, which contains by weight one-twentieth of one percent (0.05%) or more of (1) uranium, (2) thorium, or (3) any combination thereof.

The bulk of the contamination at the Linde property also met the "source material" definition. The transfer of source material to any person, unless authorized by a license issued by the AEC, was specifically prohibited at Sec. 40.10 (see historic 10 CFR Part 40 excerpts). A "person" included "any individual, corporation, ... the United States or any agency thereof ... ". One of the reasons for strict government control of such material was "to protect the health and safety of the public" (Atomic Energy Act of 1954, Section 2.d.)

ILLEGAL ACTS BY THE AEC INITIATED THE ENSUING MESS

Contrary to its own regulations, when AEC vacated its premises at the Linde facility it failed to license this "source material" as required by this Act, thereby, violating its lawful responsibility to maintain control over the material. Similarly, in November 1959, without licensing the residues, the AEC transferred the Haist property to the General Services Administration for "disposal". On June 17, 1960, the property was sold by GSA to the Ashland Oil Co for $56,000. (See DOE's Authority Review for Ashland/Seaway properties.)

According to the DOE environmental review documents, the wastes abandoned at the Haist property contained about 86,300 pounds of total uranium, equivalent to about 26.5 curies (Ci) of total uranium (approximately 3200 lbs. per curie) consisting of 12.7 Ci of U-238 (half-life of 4.5 billion years), 13.2 Ci of U-234, and 0.6 Ci of U-235 (see "uranium" in Glossary). Estimates of the amounts of radium-226 (half-life of 1600 years), thorium-230 (half-life of 77,000 years), and the other uranium decay chain members present in these wastes have not been provided by DOE, in spite of our requests for this essential information. (The total source term radioactivity is estimated to be over 150 curies).

The original volume of the wastes dumped at the Haist property was about 5,600 cubic yards (assuming a density of 1.7). Now, over 352,000 cubic yards of soils are contaminated based on cleanup criteria proposed by the Department of Energy (DOE) [see below]. This is more than a sixtyfold increase in the contaminated volume in only 50 years. The community's preferred cleanup alternative (complete waste removal with offsite storage at a suitable, licensed facility) also includes an estimated 14,000 cubic yards of contaminated building materials from the demolition of all four contaminated buildings at the Linde/Praxair property.

In addition to the continuing forces of erosion - wind and water - the abandonment of regulatory responsibilities by both the federal government and later by the state government (NY became an Agreement State in 1962) resulted in the wholesale transfer of large amounts of the wastes to other nearby properties. In 1974, prior to constructing two oil tanks on the former Haist property, Ashland Oil Co. transferred approximately 6,000 cubic yards of the residues and contaminated soils to an adjacent landfill at the Seaway Industrial Park. The owners of Seaway apparently did not know the material was radioactive. Ashland also transferred additional volumes of contaminated material to their property (known as Ashland 2) located east of the Seaway property. Such transfers were made as recently as 1982, two years after the Linde property was designated for cleanup by the DOE. The Town of Tonawanda landfill was contaminated along the way by the dumping of contaminated sludge from the sewage treatment plant and contaminated sediments from storm sewers and dredged from Two Mile Creek, all of which were disposal routes used by Linde for the liquid effluents from the uranium refinery.

RADIOACTIVE LIQUID EFFLUENTS DISCHARGED

During the operation of the refinery at Linde, large volumes of contaminated liquids were discharged: seven bedrock injection wells on the Linde property received 55 million gallons containing 3.7 Ci of total uranium and 5.5 Ci of Ra-226 - 9.2 Ci total. Tonawanda's storm sewers and Two Mile Creek received 56 million gallons: 3.8 Ci of total uranium and 5.6 Ci of Ra-226 - 9.3 Ci total. Tonawanda's sanitary sewers received: 6.5 Ci of total uranium and 2.6 Ci of Ra-226 - 9.1 Ci total. Neither the fate nor the remediation of these 27.6 Ci of material is adequately addressed in DOE's draft Environmental Impact Statement (RI/FS-EIS) for the site. These releases have been estimated to represent almost 50 percent of MED-related uranium and radium environmental contamination at the site.

DOE's 1993 BASELINE RISK ASSESSMENT:

This "no action" (i.e., if no cleanup is done) evaluation of the hazards posed by the contamination at the Tonawanda Site seriously underestimates the site's inherent risks. It contains several errors and omissions (see Comments on draft RI/FS-EIS for a detailed discussion). Pathways involving water-borne exposure are excluded; the time frame considered is much too short; exposure scenarios unrealistically limit exposure pathways and especially exposure durations. A conservative assessment of the radioactive hazard present at the site would assume the maximally exposed individual to be an around-the-clock resident, not a "transient" spending only 25 hours per year at the site.

FACTORS THAT MUST BE CONSIDERED IN DEVISING AN EFFECTIVE LONG-TERM WASTE MANAGEMENT STRATEGY:

  • hazardous life of wastes more than 500,000 years;
  • high potential for water-borne dispersal in Tonawanda;
  • current and expected future proximity to dense human population and intensive construction and re-construction activities;
  • wind erosion dispersal;
  • radon gas emanation;
  • gamma radiation shielding;
  • other geologic factors: earthquake or volcanic activity.

Public understanding of the need to prevent any further increase in the waste volume and the need for indefinite environmental monitoring are essential if waste isolation is to be successful in the long term.

This area's wet, severe climate makes for very adverse physical conditions at the site. The inability of any engineered landfill to withstand the forces of erosion by water and weathering for even a small fraction of the hazard period, and the presence of a dense human population and intensive human activity (construction and re-construction, changes in land use) which is expected to continue in the area indefinitely into the future are the principal reasons to move the wastes to an arid, secure site that is much more physically suitable for the long-term management of these wastes. Clay containment at Tonawanda can be expected to fail in 200 years, perhaps sooner. Then, a much larger contaminated volume will have to be dealt with, at much higher cost, and re-containment of the contamination may not be deemed to be feasible, because it's "too expensive". (Some politicians think we have already reached that point.) At some point re-containment may actually become impossible and unrestricted use of the affected area would have to be "sacrificed". Thus, at some point in the not-too-distant future when the institutional or societal memory of the contamination fails, unwitting future generations of users of the affected area would pay the price in terms of elevated health effects.

If our objective of long-term environmental isolation of these wastes is to be both successful and cost-effective, the wastes must be removed to the best physical storage sites -- now. Relocation of the wastes to an arid area may ensure that the emplaced waste volume will remain intact, i.e. not increase, without further human intervention for tens of thousands of years, limited only by future climatic changes. Arid locations are available in the Southwest, for example the Nevada Test Site or Clive, Utah, where Tonawanda's fundamental problem of water-borne dispersal currently is virtually non-existent. Wind dispersal in an arid location can be avoided by careful waste placement in areas where the prevailing winds deposit soil instead of removing it. Radon emanation can be prevented, as it would be at any site, by the use of a sufficiently thick clay cap over the wastes. (See Principles of Sound Radioactive Waste Management discussion.)

SUMMARY OF DOE's 1993 EIS CLEANUP ALTERNATIVES:

Alternative 1: No Action
The "no-action" alternative is included to comply with the integration of NEPA requirements with CERCLA procedures, and it provides a baseline for comparison with other alternatives. Under this alternative, no action is taken to clean up the contamination present at any of the site properties. Only periodic monitoring of contaminant levels is performed. Fencing and signs currently in existence would be left in place but would not receive maintenance or repairs. This alternative would not be protective of human health and the environment.

Alternative 2: Complete Excavation with Offsite Disposal
Complete excavation of MED-contaminated soils (including those underneath buildings and in the Seaway landfill) and offsite disposal would remove the source of contamination from the site. The Linde structures, including Buildings 14, 30, 31, 38 and the underground storage vault, would be demolished, crushed for volume reduction, and also shipped to an NRC-licensed offsite disposal facility at a physically-suitable storage location. Removal of contaminated material from Rattlesnake Creek would be performed during the dry season to minimize the need for dikes and berms; the associated wetlands would be reconstructed. This alternative would have to meet applicable cleanup standards and guidelines regarding acceptable levels of residual contamination and would also provide the greatest protection of human health and the environment for the longest length of time.

Alternative 3: Complete Excavation with Onsite Disposal
Complete excavation of soils (including those underneath buildings and in the Seaway landfill) and onsite disposal (in a landfill to be constructed at the Ashland 1 property, probably) would leave the contamination at a physically-unsuitable location for long-term storage. Linde structures would be demolished and Rattlesnake Creek would be cleaned up as in Alternative 2 with the contaminated materials placed in the onsite landfill. Institutional controls would be imposed to control access to the onsite disposal landfill and applicable standards and guidelines would be met in the short run. However, ongoing erosion and weathering of the disposal landfill would expose and release the contamination in the not-to- distant future (perhaps as soon as 100 years), making this alternative both less protective of health and environment and less cost-effective in the long run than Alternative 2.

Alternative 4: Partial Excavation with Offsite Disposal
Partial excavation of only those MED-contaminated soils that are "accessible" (i.e., not under structures or under garbage in the Seaway landfill). Linde Buildings 14, 31, 38, and the underground storage vault would be demolished, crushed for volume reduction, and shipped to an NRC-licensed disposal facility at a physically- suitable site. Linde Building 30 would be decontaminated to allow for continued use. Soils under Building 30 would be excavated when they become accessible (after demolition of Building 30 by Linde at some time in the future). Removal of contaminated material from Rattlesnake Creek would be as in Alternative 2. This alternative will not meet existing applicable cleanup standards and guidelines for unrestricted future use of areas of these properties following cleanup. Therefore, federal control or ownership of these areas would be required for the purpose of providing long-term restric- tions on the future use of these areas.

Alternative 5: Partial Excavation with Onsite Disposal
Same as Alternative 4 except that the removed contaminated materials would be placed in an onsite disposal landfill. This alternative would provide less protection of human health and environment in the long run than Alternative 4 because the onsite disposal landfill will deteriorate as described in Alternative 3.

Alternative 6: Containment with Institutional Control
Containment would involve placing clean fill over all accessible soils. Removal of contaminated material from Rattlesnake Creek would be done as described in Alternative 2 (although where this material would be stored is not known). Contamination on the surfaces of buildings and structures would be contained by applying sealants. Applicable standards and guidelines regarding residual contamination and containment would not be met. Therefore, federal control or ownership of all properties, except the area of Rattlesnake Creek subject to removal of contaminated material, would be required for the purpose of providing the necessary long- term restriction on future use of the properties.

CLEANUP CRITERIA:

DOE (proposed in the 1993 draft RI/FS-EIS) :

Based on non-promulgated DOE Order 5400.5, DOE claims it will meet a basic post-remediation radiation dose limit of 100 millirems per year above background (background dose ranges from 100, typically, to 300 millirems per year). This 100 millirem increment in dose translates into at least a 33% (typically a 100%) increase in cancer risk. However, because DOE does not include the incremental dose from the radon emanating from the wastes, an unrestricted user of the site may receive much more than this post-remediation dose limit if DOE removes only those soils that exceed the soil criteria which DOE has proposed for the Tonawanda Site:

Soils :

60 pCi/g U-total, implies 28.4 pCi/g U-238

5 pCi/g Ra-226, Th-230 in upper 6" layer of soil

15 pCi/g Ra-226, Th-230 in layers below 6"

(DOE applies these radium and thorium criteria independently)

Using these proposed cleanup criteria, DOE has estimated the volumes of contaminated soil at each of the five properties:


CONTAMINATED SOIL VOLUMES
(CUBIC YARDS)

ASHLAND 1 ASHLAND 2 SEAWAY LINDE TONAWANDA LANDFILL TOTAL
120,000 52,000 117,000 47,950 15,200 352,450

Buildings : proposed limits on surface contamination (buildings, equipment, etc.):

NOTE: 2.2 dpm (disintegration per minute) equals 1 picoCurie


CONTAMINATION


SURFACE LIMIT


Maximum fixed Ra-226
---
Maximum fixed total Uranium
(U-238, U-235, and decay products)
15,000 dpm/100 cm2

( 6818 pCi per 4" square )

Average fixed Ra-226
---
Average fixed total Uranium
(U-235, U-238, and decay products)
5000 dpm/100 cm2

( 2273 pCi per 4" square )

Average removable Ra-226
---
Average removable total Uranium
(U-235, U-238, and decay products)
1000 dpm/100 cm2

( 455 pCi per 4" square )

U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (required) :

NRC Regulations :

10 CFR Part 40, Appendix A ("Criteria Relating to the Operation of Uranium Mills and the Disposition of Tailings or Wastes Produced by the Extraction or Concentration of Source Material from Ores Processed Primarily for Their Source Material Content"):

The fundamental goal of these regulations in cleanup decisions is "permanent isolation of tailings and associated contaminants by minimizing disturbance and dispersion by natural forces, and to do so without ongoing maintenance."

Waste isolation is to be achieved by performance objectives:

"The [disposal] site selection process shall be an optimization to the maximum extent reasonably achievable in terms of these features:

  1. remoteness from population areas;
  2. hydrologic and other natural conditions as they contribute to continued immobilization and isolation of contaminants from groundwater sources; and
  3. potential for minimizing erosion, disturbance, and dispersal by natural forces over the long term."

Also, specifies a limit on radon exhalation from the disposal site of no more than 2 picocuries per square meter per second (compared to 20 pCi/m2/second in EPA's UMTRCA regs: 40 CFR 192)

NRC Guidelines :

The following guidelines are applicable to the Tonawanda Site:

Branch Technical Position on Disposal or Onsite Storage of Thorium or Uranium Wastes from Past Operations

Office of Nuclear Materials Safety and Safeguards Policy and Guidance Directive FC 83-23, 11-4-83 ("Guidelines for Decontamination of Facilities and Equipment Prior to Release for Unrestricted Use or Termination of Licenses for Byproduct, Source, and Special Nuclear Material"), and Regulatory Guide 1.86, 6-74. (See NRC Summary of Radiological Cleanup Criteria discussion.)

These guidelines are summarized in the following table:


NRC Limits on Surface Contamination
(buildings, equipment, etc.)

Contamination Limit Dose Basis
Average fixed U-total
(U-235, U-238, and decay products)
5000 dpm/100 cm2 13 millirem/yr
Average removable U-total 1000 dpm/100 cm2 -
Maximum fixed Ra-226 300 dpm/100 cm2 -
Average fixed Ra-226 100 dpm/100 cm2 0.2 millirem/yr
Average removable Ra-226 20 dpm/100 cm2 -
Avg. and Max. external
beta-gamma dose rate
at one centimeter
0.2 to 1.0 millirad/hr 20 millirem/yr

NRC Limits on Soil Concentrations
and
External Gamma Radiation

Contamination Limit Dose Basis
Total Uranium in Soil 10 pCi/g

[i.e. 5 pCi/g of U-238]

Approx. 500 millirem/yr

(based on 5 pCi/g Ra-226
standard in 40 CFR 192;
represents a lifetime
cancer risk of one in fifty)
External radiation
10 microR/hr
at 1 meter
above the ground

Approx. 24 millirem/yr

(based on approx. 2360 hours of unshielded exposure)

N.Y. State : On 9-14-93, NYSDEC issued TAGM-4003 (Technical Administrative Guidance Memorandum) prescribing cleanup guidelines for soils contaminated with radioactive materials. This guidance requires that the highest radiation dose received by any member of the public following cleanup be as low as reasonably achievable, and less than 10 millirems per year above background. To reach this post- remediation dose level will require much lower concentrations than the DOE-proposed soil concentration criteria listed above and the elimination of DOE's "hot spot" exemption which allows less thorough cleanup of small "hot spot" areas (less than 270 square feet). This will increase the 352,000 cubic yards of soils identified by DOE (in the draft RI/FS-EIS) as requiring remediation by an undetermined amount (see TAGM-4003).

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