Public health assessment for evaluation of off-site air contamination from the Savannah River Site (USDOE) : Savannah River Site Aiken, South Carolina EPA facility ID: SC1890008989
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Public health assessment for evaluation of off-site air contamination from the Savannah River Site (USDOE) : Savannah River Site Aiken, South Carolina EPA facility ID: SC1890008989

Filetype[PDF-4.25 MB]

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    • Alternative Title:
      Evaluation of off-site air contamination from the Savannah River Site (USDOE)
    • Description:
      The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, ATSDR, was established by Congress in 1980 under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act, also known as the Superfund law. This law set up a fund to identify and clean up our country’s hazardous waste sites. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, USEPA, and the individual states regulate the investigation and cleanup of the sites.

      Since 1986, ATSDR has been required by law to conduct a public health assessment at each of the sites on the USEPA National Priorities List. The aim of these evaluations is to find out if people are being exposed to hazardous substances and, if so, whether that exposure is harmful and should be stopped or reduced. If appropriate, ATSDR also conducts public health assessments when petitioned by concerned individuals. Public health assessments are carried out by scientists from ATSDR and from states with which ATSDR has cooperative agreements. The public health assessment program allows flexibility in the format or structure of their response to the public health issues at hazardous waste sites. For example, a public health assessment could be one document or it could be a compilation of several health consultations—the structure may vary from site to site. Whatever the form of the public health assessment, the process is not considered complete until public health issues at the site are addressed.

      The Savannah River Site (SRS), owned by the U.S. Department of Energy (USDOE), encompasses 198,344 acres in a rural and remote area in the southwestern portion of South Carolina. The closest densely populated area is Augusta, Georgia, about 22.5 miles northwest of SRS. Construction of the SRS facility commenced in 1951, with the main purpose of the facility to support the country’s defense program by producing basic materials used in the manufacturing of nuclear weapons. When initially built, the site contained five nuclear reactors, two large chemical separation plants, a tritium (hydrogen-3) processing facility, a heavy water (enriched in hydrogen-2) extraction plant, a uranium fuel processing facility, a fuel and target fabrication facility, and a waste management facility. During SRS operations, large amounts of radioactive, chemical, and mixed hazardous materials and wastes were processed, treated, and stored at the site. As a result, radioactive and chemical materials have been released to air, biota, groundwater, sediment, soil, and surface water. In 1988, all reactors were shut down and SRS discontinued its production of nuclear materials for the U.S. defense program but continued to process radionuclides for other purposes such as space exploration, nuclear medicine, and commercial uses. The K-reactor was started up briefly in 1991/1992 as part of a startup demonstration. By 1993, the site reactors were permanently shut down, significantly reducing air releases. Currently the site’s primary missions include site remediation, meeting the needs of the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile through the tritium programs, meeting the needs of the National Nuclear Security Administration’s (NNSA) nuclear nonproliferation programs by storing and disposing of excess special nuclear materials, and supporting the needs of the Savannah River National Laboratory’s science applications.

      In 1992, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) initiated a Dose Reconstruction Project to closely examine the radionuclide and chemical releases that occurred at SRS during the site’s main operating period from 1954 to 1992. The Dose Reconstruction determined that the available environmental monitoring data suggested there were significant releases of radionuclides to ambient air, but the release rates for chemicals and heavy metals were most likely overestimated and further research was needed to better define actual release rates.

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