EPA Fines U.S. Energy Department $1.1 Million

EPA announced on March 27 that it fined the U.S. Energy Department (DOE) $1.1 million over violations of an agreement to clean up the Hanford nuclear reservation.

The violations involve operations at the Environmental Restoration Disposal Facility (ERDF) landfill, which is the primary repository for contaminated soils, debris and other hazardous and radioactive waste from cleanup activities across the site.

According to Nick Ceto, EPA's Hanford Project manager, "The Department of Energy needs to do a better job of managing the cleanup work at Hanford."

In a letter dated March 27, 2007, EPA indicated it calculated stipulated penalties of $1,140,000 against DOE for the following violations:

  • ERDF personnel failed to perform weekly inspections, which would detect the presence of leachate and the proper functioning of the ERDF leachate collection and removal systems between May and December of 2006. The accumulation of leachate on ERDF liners must be minimized to reduce the risk of leaks.
  • ERDF operations did not comply with important testing requirements in the approved "Waste Materials Management Plan." ERDF waste must be compacted to assure the long-term structural stability of waste disposed in the landfill. Between June 2005 and January 2007, compaction tests were not performed as required.

According to Elin D. Miller, EPA Region 10 administrator, the circumstances surrounding the problems at the Hanford landfill are disappointing.

"Our cleanup agreement with the Department of Energy clearly defines what constitutes responsible, careful waste management practice," Miller said. "Continued missteps at one of the country's most complex and difficult cleanup sites cannot -- and will not -- be tolerated."

The ERDF landfill at the Hanford site in eastern Washington is a critical resource for the cleanup of Hanford. ERDF is designed to meet stringent requirements for hazardous and radioactive waste landfills.

After an initial shutdown of operations upon discovery of these failures, EPA has permitted ERDF to resume operations under strict oversight. Efforts are currently underway to conduct field testing to confirm that the waste has been placed in ERDF to date meets design criteria.

Leachate is the liquid produced when water percolates through any permeable material. It can contain either dissolved or suspended material, or usually both.

For more information about EPA's Hanford Superfund site, visit http://yosemite.epa.gov/r10/cleanup.nsf/webpage/Hanford,+Washington?OpenDocument.

This article originally appeared in the 03/01/2007 issue of Environmental Protection.

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