Environmental Health - Toxic Substances Hydrology Program

Low-Level Radioactive and Mixed- Hazardous Wastes—Amargosa Desert Research Site, Nevada

USGS scientists collecting gas samples from the unsaturated zone at the Amargosa Desert Research Site. Subsurface gases are drawn through a small glass tube (in foreground hand) filled with adsorbing resins that trap volatile organic compounds for later analysis. Photo Credit: Brian J. Andraski, USGS

Mixed radioactive and organic wastes often are disposed in the shallow subsurface in arid regions. Contamination leaks from disposal facilities result in gaseous and water-borne contamination that violates accepted theories of contaminant transport. As a result, there are concerns for management of existing leaks and plans for future waste disposal. Inadequate knowledge of the behavior of these wastes has deadlocked national decisions about the disposition of low-level radioactive wastes. Delays in resolving these questions are costly (due to the interim solutions used) and can pose a health risk (due to the multitude of temporary waste-storage sites located in highly populated areas of the Nation).

In 1997 the Toxic Substances Hydrology Program Program initiated research at the Amargosa Desert Research Site (ADRS). The objective of the ADRS research team is to improve understanding of and methods for characterizing the mechanisms that control subsurface migration and fate of contaminants in arid environments. Research focuses on quantifying the processes that affect movement of radionuclides and volatile organic chemicals in these unique environments and methods to monitor and evaluate contaminant migration in the subsurface.

All-terrain vehicle towing a device to measure the electrical resistivity of the subsurface
A USGS scientist used an all-terrain vehicle to tow a device to measure the electrical resistivity of the subsurface. The system consists of five receivers that measure resistivity and one transmitter that sends an electrical signal into the ground. USGS scientists were testing the ability of non-invasive multielectrode resistivity surveys to map the underground extent of gravel layers in a thick and dry unsaturated zone. Photo taken from Lucius and others, 2008.

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