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Environmental Health - Toxic Substances

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Mixed, Low-level Radioactive and Other Wastes -- Amargosa Desert Research Site, Nevada

Map of tritium concentrations in soil-water vapor at a depth of 0.5 meter.
Map of tritium concentrations in soil-water vapor at a depth of 0.5 meter, Amargosa Desert Research Site (ADRS), Nevada. Soil-water concentrations are inferred from measured plant-water concentrations and predictive relations between plant-water and soil-water-vapor concentrations. Concentrations are given in bequerels per liter (Bq/L). One Bq/L (one decay per second) equals approximately 8.47 tritium units.

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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 Toxics 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.

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