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Environmental Health - Toxic Substances


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

USGS scientists collecting gas samples from the unsaturated zone.
USGS scientists collecting gas samples from the unsaturated zone. Subsurface gases are drawn through a small glass tube (in foreground hand) filled with adsorbing resins that trap volatile organic compounds (VOCs) for later analysis. Their findings suggest that VOCs may help explain radionuclide transport at the site. Photo credit: Brian Andraski, USGS.

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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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