Environmental Health - Toxic Substances Hydrology Program

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

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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 contaminant transport that is unique and varies from accepted theories of contaminant transport. As a result, there are concerns for management of existing leaks and plans for future waste disposal.

The goal of the investigation is to improve understanding of and methods for characterizing the mechanisms that control subsurface migration and fate of radionuclides and volatile organic chemicals in the unsaturated zones of arid environments. A longer-term goal is to assess the actual versus perceived risks of chronic environmental exposures to mixtures of hazardous compounds on the biological community structure.

The research is done at the field test facility the Amargosa Desert Research Site, Nevada. The research site is located at a disposal facility that buried mixed organic and inorganic radioactive wastes in shallow unlined trenches starting in 1962.

News

USGS scientists collecting a soil sample

High Levels of Natural Perchlorate in a Desert Ecosystem

Naturally formed perchlorate falls from the atmosphere and accumulates in the soil of a Nevada desert at rates several times greater than previously thought, according to research by USGS and Texas Tech University scientists published in the Journal of Environmental Quality. The study is the first to document how natural perchlorate is ...

USGS scientists collecting gas samples from the unsaturated zone

Findings Suggest VOCs May Help Explain Radionuclide Transport

Scientists find that volatile organic compounds (VOCs) emanating from a closed low-level radioactive waste landfill can migrate over long distances through the unsaturated zone. ...

Surface geophysical equipment used to measure electrical resistivity in the subsurface

Visualizing Contamination Pathways in the Subsurface

Visualizing Potential Contamination Pathways in the Subsurface, USGS scientists developed non-invasive methods to identify potential pathways, such as faults, fractures, and gravel beds. ...

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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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USGS scientists collecting gas samples from the unsaturated zone

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