The new on-site waste landfill planned at the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge Site in Tennessee lacks sufficient protections against discharges of contaminated wastewater, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Mary Walker, acting administrator for EPA Region 4, relayed the findings to the manager of the DOE Oak Ridge Office of Environmental Management, Jay Mullis, and the commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, David Salyers, in a March 21 letter.
The letter, obtained by Weapons Complex Morning Briefing, gives the parties 21 days to elevate the dispute to EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler. If neither DOE or Tennessee dispute the finding, EPA will effectively consider them to have agreed with it and issue a new focused feasibility study on the landfill.
The Oak Ridge Site’s nearly full existing landfill, the Environmental Management Waste Management Facility discharges wastewater with hazardous substances into Bear Creek, according to the letter. The Energy Department plans to build a new on-site landfill, the Environmental Management Disposal Facility, which Walker wrote would also discharge wastewater into Bear Creek and its tributaries.
The Energy Department published its preferred alternative for the new landfill in September 2018. The EPA said waste waters discharged from the landfill must meet threshold requirements for protecting human health and the environment under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), also known as Superfund. Oak Ridge became a Superfund site in 1989.
“There is no exception for discharges of radionuclides” under Superfund, according to the letter. The DOE safety safeguards for toxic pollution in this case “appear in part to be based on dilution,” EPA said. “This approach ignores the [Clean Water Act]’s technology-based standard.”
The state and DOE did not immediately comment on the letter by press time.
Chemical waste, low-level radioactive waste, and mixed low-level waste from DOE’s Y-12 National Security Complex and the Oak Ridge Reservation cleanup would go into the new landfill. Like the old site, the new 2.2-million-cubic yard landfill would be located in the Bear Creek Valley.