Many Voices Working for the Community

Oak Ridge
Site Specific Advisory Board

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Approved September 9, 2009 Meeting Minutes


The Oak Ridge Site Specific Advisory Board (ORSSAB) held its monthly meeting on Wednesday, September 9, 2009, at the DOE Information Center in Oak Ridge, beginning at 6 p.m.


Members Present

Darrell Akins

Darryl Bonner

Steve Dixon - Chair

Bob Hatcher

Betty Jones

Edward Juarez

Ted Lundy - Vice-chair

David Martin

Steve Mead

Gloria Mei

Lance Mezga

Ron Murphree

Robert Olson

Josh Pratt1

Sondra Sarten

Sidney Sherrill1

Steve Stow

Kevin Westervelt


Members Absent

John Coffman - Secretary

Chuck Jensen

Tim Myrick

Maggie Owen


1Student Representative


Deputy Designated Federal Officer, Liaisons, and Federal Coordinator Present

Pat Halsey, DOE-ORO, ORSSAB Federal Coordinator

Connie Jones, Liaison, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Region 4

Steve McCracken, Deputy Designated Federal Officer and DOE-ORO Assistant Manager for Environmental Management (EM).

John Owsley, Liaison, Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC)


Others Present

Daniel Axelrod

Susan Gawarecki, Local Oversight Committee

Spencer Gross, MCH, Corp.

Kathy Johnson, Spectrum

Norman Mulvenon

Pete Osborne, IIA

Bill Tewes


Seventeen members of the public were present.


Liaison Comments

Steve McCracken – Mr. McCracken commented on an article that appeared in the Knoxville News Sentinel that indicated technetium-99 contamination in the K-25 Building at East Tennessee Technology Park (ETTP) was more widespread than anticipated. Mr. McCracken said that was not the case. He said the sampling had not been done to make that determination.


Mr. McCracken said work funded under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) was going well. He said most of the ARRA projects at the Y-12 National Security Complex and at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) have begun. He said work to demolish Building 3026 at the lab was about to begin and the building should be demolished by November.


Connie Jones – no comments.


John Owsley – TDEC’s DOE Oversight Division annual status report (Attachment 1) was distributed to the board and copies are available at the DOE Information Center, at the TDEC offices, and at local libraries. Mr. Owsley said it will also be posted in a few weeks on the TDEC website at


Public Comment  

Mr. Mulvenon encouraged everyone to listen carefully to Mr. Japp’s presentation on mercury. He pointed out that there are some actions to be done in Upper and Lower East Fork Poplar Creek related to mercury remediation.



Mr. Japp’s presentation was on the history of mercury use and cleanup efforts at the Oak Ridge
Y-12 site (Attachment 2).


Mercury was used at Y-12 in the early 1950s to separate lithium 6 from lithium 7. Lithium 6 was used in the building of thermonuclear weapons. Mr. Japp said at the time there was between 22 and 24 million pounds of mercury at Y-12, which he said was about one third to one half of the world’s supply of mercury.


The Alpha 4 and 5 Buildings and the Beta 4 Building at Y-12 were retrofitted with equipment to separate lithium. The column extraction process used a vast number of pumps, valves, piping, and fittings, and if the there were any leaks in the equipment mercury escaped very quickly. Mr. Japp said there are estimates that about 2 million pounds of mercury that escaped from the system has been accounted for, but there are documented reports of releases of 240,000 to 470,000 pounds of mercury into East Fork Poplar Creek at Y-12. Because of the density of mercury at 113 pounds per gallon that amount of mercury would equal a cube of about 8x8x8 feet.


Mr. Japp showed a video of the Lower East Fork Poplar cleanup project during the 1990s. The video explained that cleanup standards agreed to was 400 parts per million rather than an original standard suggested by DOE of 180 parts per million. The higher number was suggested by an active citizens’ group which felt the lower number was too conservative and would cost billions of dollars more to remediate as well as extensive environmental damage to the creek.


While Lower East Fork Poplar Creek has been remediated, there are still mercury releases coming from the Y-12 Plant via Upper East Fork Poplar Creek, which runs through the facility. Mr. Japp showed a slide to explain how mercury was lost from process buildings and eventually made its way into Upper East Fork (Attachment 1, page 2, slide 2). He said to get to remaining mercury in soils under existing buildings those buildings will have to be removed.


Mr. Japp explained that when Y-12 was built the valley in which it sits had to be leveled. He showed a slide that indicated where fill material was brought in to level the site (Attachment 1, page 3, slide 1). Red lines on the slide indicate tributaries of surface water flow prior to building

the plant. Those tributaries had to be channelized into a series of storm sewers to handle the Oak Ridge rainfall amounts. Mercury has found its way into the system of storm sewers on the west end of Y-12.

Mr. Japp showed a slide of the areas of mercury contamination at Y-12 (Attachment 1, page 4, slide 1). He said many of those areas have buildings in place that will require demolition to access the soil to clean up the mercury.


His next slide illustrated the historical overview of releases to Upper East Fork Poplar Creek (Attachment 1, page 4, slide 2). He said 80,000 to 90,000 pounds of mercury were released to the creek in the early years of the lithium extraction process. When the nitric acid wash process was ended in the late 1950s the releases dropped off dramatically. The lithium extraction process ended in the early 1960s and releases dropped even more.  Mr. Japp said the exploded view of the graph on the right represents about 8 grams of mercury a day going into the creek, which he said equates to about 300 parts per trillion in the water level at Station 17 where the creek leaves Y-12 and becomes Lower East Fork Poplar Creek. He said the drinking water standard for mercury is about 2 parts per billion. He said the parts per trillion is related to bioaccumulation in fish. The concern is not mercury in drinking water, but people eating fish from the creek in sufficient quantities over time to cause neurological disorders in humans. But even 300 parts per trillion is not low enough to bring concentrations of mercury in fish to a level to prevent health problems.


Mr. Japp reviewed mercury remediations to date at Y-12 (Attachment 1, page 5, slide 1). His next slide shows how mercury amounts in the creek have dropped, but mercury concentration in fish in the creek remain fairly constant and are above regulatory limits. Mr. Japp said the overall approach to reaching regulatory limits in fish is to continue the remediation strategy to continue to look for sources of mercury but also understand the science of mercury in the environment and how it accumulates in fish.


The path forward (Attachment 2, page 6, slide 11) is to clean and reline sewers in the west end of Y-12, clean up the Y-12 scrap yard, remove excess buildings that sit on top of mercury contaminated soils, clean creek banks and sediments, and continue ongoing scientific studies of mercury in the environment.


After Mr. Japp’s presentation a number of questions were asked. Following are abridged questions and answers.


Mr. Axelrod – Do we know how many of these fish [in the creek] might be caught per year and how significant is it to human consumption? Mr. Japp – The creek is posted with warnings that the fish are not safe for human consumption, which is an institutional control. Since fishing is officially prohibited having reliable statistics on how many people are actually catching and eating the fish would be a difficult number to arrive at. The hope is that it is not a significant source of a person’s diet.


Mr. Stow­ – It is our understanding that the discovery of the mercury problem is what led to the formation of the EM program. Can you comment on that? Mr. McCracken – I think it would be interested to learn more about the evolution of events that led to the formation of the EM program. I just assumed that it was the result of nationwide activism and anger about the way things were not getting done within DOE. We’ll look into that and try to provide an answer at the next meeting.


Mr. Lundy – Do you have any information about the use of mercury at ORNL and any cleanup there? Mr. Japp – I believe there have been some mercury cleanup issues at the lab, but much less significant than what we’ve talked about here. Mr. Lundy – CERCLA (Comprehensive Environmental Restoration, Compensation and Liability Act) has a compensation component. Are you at liberty to talk about any compensation that resulted from contamination at Y-12? Mr. Japp – I am not aware of anything related specific to mercury. I know you can get into Natural Resource Damage Assessments and there might be discussions as to what type of actions to take to compensate for damages, but I think that takes place in a different venue and is a bit broader and not tied specifically to one contaminant like mercury.

Mr. McCracken – I think the board should be mindful of something else to think about as it relates to Y-12. We’ve made some remarkable progress in reducing the amount of mercury in East Fork Poplar Creek. It is still quite a bit above the risk based standard for accumulation in fish. We have an interim goal of getting down to 200 parts per trillion of mercury in the water. I think what we need to be concerned about is not where we are today or where we need to be a number of years from now, but when we begin the actual cleanup activity there is a high probability that we will mobilize mercury. We will have to find a way to deal with that problem when we get there. I believe that is one of the most important periods we’re going to have for trying to make sure that we manage the mercury the problem that will very likely get worse, at least during the time we’re trying to do cleanup. We’re going to have to look at alternatives for dealing with that. I would think that would be of significant interest to the board later on.


Mr. Martin – Have you noticed elevated mercury levels in fish in other areas such as the Clinch River and in Watts Bar Lake? Mr. Japp – I’m not aware of any studies in those areas at least not to this level of detail. I’m sure they are monitoring the fish, whether by the state or by researchers at ORNL, but we’d have to get someone else to speak to that. Mr. Martin – Does the Oak Ridge Reservation get any outside mercury contamination - airborne from coal fired plants, etc.? Mr. Japp – I’m sure there is some from atmospheric deposition, but that would be a relatively small contribution.


Mr. Murphree­ – The first two actions on the path forward, clean and reline sewers and scrap yard removal, do you have any timeframes on when those actions will be initiated? Mr. McCracken – Those two projects are covered under ARRA. They will be done over the next two years. Mr. Murphree­ – The cleaning of the sewers is just treating the symptom. It may prevent migration of mercury to the creek, but doesn’t do anything for an ultimate solution. Mr. Japp – For those particular deposits of mercury that wouldn’t ultimately remediate the problem. But the National Nuclear Security Administration has an active facility there, so we don’t have the ability to access the entire footprint. When we get to the larger areas of the process buildings, that would be the greatest steps forward. But in the meantime of making an impact on the creek and the fish, cleaning and relining the storm sewers will be an effective interim measure. Mr. McCracken – The contamination in the creek ranges from 300 to 350 parts per trillion. We have a goal of getting to 200 parts per trillion. The West End Mercury Area remediation project is to help us achieve that. I agree that the cleaning and relining treats the symptom and not the problem. I do believe it’s a fairly low dollar value compared to the money we spend in this work. Two to three million dollars has the potential to reduce by 50 percent the amount of mercury going into the water.


Mr. Olson – The video mentioned mercuric chloride and sulfide. In the last century the conventional wisdom was that methyl mercury was the bad actor. Has that wisdom changed or is the chemistry of the creek different from other places? Mr. Japp – The video contrasted mercuric chloride and sulfide and its solubility and potential for ingestion in humans. What actually accumulates in the fish is the methyl mercury and is the bad actor.


Mr. Bonner – I’m interested in knowing how mercury was lost to the air, how much was lost in the soil, how much is in Lake Reality, and how much is unaccounted for. What is the difference between that and what is accounted for? Mr. Japp – To the best of my knowledge that will never be known precisely, because the original inventories were not precise. The mercury was delivered in flasks and the flasks were not weighed to determine how much was in each one. The total inventory estimate was in the 22 to 24 million pounds range. The known spills were in the 240,000 to 270,000 pound range. It’s estimated the 60,000 pounds probably dissipated atmospherically. Another 600,000 pounds is estimated to have gone into the soils. If you add all that up and say 2 million pounds are accounted for we think 240,000 pounds went to the creek, 400,000 pounds went to the soil, 60,000 pounds went into the atmosphere, you could come up with something to the order of 1 to 1.3 million pounds that could be unaccounted for. But you’re limited by your limited precision on inventory.  When you compare to other industries that use large quantities of mercury they may lose as much as 50 percent of the mercury in the course of processing. Here the loss was about 1 percent. But for mercury in water and fish tissue, a little goes a long way.


Mr. Bonner – Given the current efforts to consolidate and reduce the footprint of Y-12 what is the status of land use controls if areas of Y-12 are turned over to indirect DOE control? Mr. JappWe have plans for an additional record of decision that will address soil cleanup levels. So ultimately decisions will be made about how much to clean up. Certainly there will be soil remediation when those buildings are out of the way. That will be taken care of first before the land is made available for other uses. At that time the land use controls or institutional controls will be fashioned to fit the condition we left the property in.


Mr. Tewes – Will the mercury situation impact Building 9731 and Beta 3 which, I believe, are slated for availability for historical purposes? Mr. Japp – I’m not aware of a compelling need to remove Beta 3 to get to the soils. 9731 probably was not retrofitted for lithium separation so I’m speculating that it would not be affected. I don’t think mercury would be a significant driver affecting historical preservation of that building. Mr. Tewes – You mentioned that you may reach a point where you do as much harm as good in trying to dispose of the last of the mercury. Will the economics of eating a limited number of fish be compared with the cost of the mercury cleanup? Mr. Japp – That has come into play in the past. The video indicated that on how to balance cost and cleanup levels. We have some areas where we can definitely make gains whether they are short term like relining storm sewers or whether it’s accessing soils under buildings where we had known spills. Given how long it takes for mercury to have an ongoing presence in the environment it would seem prudent for us to access those areas. Once we get those areas and we have all the known spills, hopefully the water levels will diminish significantly, hopefully the levels in fish will go down to regulatory limits, and the question you’re raising won’t be in play, but at some point when we’ve done all we can in terms of known spills, short of treating the entire creek it would be difficult for us to go further. Based on the graph I showed you, reducing the levels of mercury in the entire creek to lower levels does not guarantee a response in the fish. Hopefully we can work together to find a common sense approach to it. Mr. McCracken – Cost alone will not be enough to say it’s not practicable to clean up to a risk-based standard set for cleanup. It would have to be a combination of things, cost being one of them, others being feasibility, etc.


Mr. Bonner – What, if any, changes in applicable or relevant and appropriate requirements were identified in the Five-year Remediation Effectiveness Report? Mr. Japp – I can’t speak to the most recent report. I’m familiar with the interim record of decision we did in 2002. We agreed with TDEC and EPA to aim for the 200 parts per trillion level. We are well below drinking water standards. The ultimate aim is to look at ambient water quality criteria and that looks at what is accumulating in the fish. The regulatory goal seems to achieving a specific level in fish tissue. Mr. Bonner – So the remedy is still protective? Mr. Japp – We’re using institutional controls in the creek to warn people about subsistence on those fish and we’re taking actions to get to the 200 parts per trillion interim goal, and we’ve mapped out additional steps in the future that will hopefully take us lower than the 200 parts per trillion.


Committee Reports

Board Finance & Process – no report


Environmental Management – At its August meeting the committee heard a report on activities at the Transuranic Waste Processing Center. As a result of the meeting, Mr. Murphree wrote a thank you letter to presenter Bill McMillan and asked that he return to update the committee again when a new contract is awarded for the operation of the center, which is expected within a few months. There was discussion during the meeting about the impact on operations at the center and the ability to meet milestones if a new operator is awarded the contract.


The committee developed suggested top three issues and one board accomplishment to present at the fall EM SSAB Chairs’ meeting in Idaho. Those suggestions were forwarded to the Executive Committee for consideration.


At the September meeting the committee will receive an update on demolition work at the K-25 Building at ETTP, as well as preparations at K-27 to begin demolition. A report on the remediation of the K-1007 Ponds at ETTP will be part of that report. The committee will review a fact sheet on an explanation of significant difference to the record of decision to dispose of CERCLA waste at the landfill in Bear Creek Valley.


The committee will elect officers for FY 2010 and develop its work plan.


DOE liaison to the committee Dave Adler will be asked to provide an update on EM activities funded by ARRA.


Public Outreach – The committee met by teleconference on August 25 and discussed proposed upgrades to the ORSSAB exhibit at the American Museum of Science and Energy.


The committee developed its suggestions for top three issues and a board accomplishment for the fall SSAB Chairs’ meeting.


The Stakeholder’s Survey and committee accomplishments were reviewed in preparation for the annual retreat.


The committee approved the editorial plan for the next Advocate newsletter.


Mr. Westervelt reported that he and staff met with one of the staff writers for the Metro Pulse newspaper to talk about the work of the board and to determine if the paper would be willing to accept editorial material from the board.


The next meeting will be in person at the DOE Information on Tuesday, September 29 at 5:15 p.m.


Stewardship – The committee met on August 18 and had a final discussion on how to assist TDEC in monitoring applicable or relevant and appropriate requirements. The committee determined that it was not within its scope or the scope of the board to monitor DOE compliance with those requirements and decided to write a letter to TDEC explaining its position.


The committee provided its suggestions for top three issues and a board accomplishment for the fall chairs’ meeting.


At the September meeting the committee will elect officers and develop its work plan for FY 2010.


Executive – The committee did not meet in August. Mr. Dixon asked Mr. Stow to report on the Center for Oak Ridge Oral History.


Mr. Stow said the center is still in the process of hiring a person dedicated to the oral history program. He said DOE has begun interviewing people who worked on classified projects. ORNL is currently preparing interviews that have already been conducted and will provide those to the center.


Ms. Halsey noted that DOE-ORO has established a similar organization called Networking Oak Ridge Oral History (NOROH), which will work to gather oral histories throughout ORO, including the Office of Science and Technical Information, which will work to gather classified interviews. She said NOROH was chartered by Gerald Boyd, the manager of ORO, Ted Sherry, the manager at Y-12, and Walt Warnick, director of the Office of Science and Technical Information. The group will identify the key processes and activities done on the Oak Ridge Reservation and prioritize how interviews will be conducted.


Announcements and Other Board Business

ORSSAB will have its next meeting on Wednesday, October 14 at 6 p.m. at the DOE Information Center, 475 Oak Ridge Turnpike, Oak Ridge, Tenn.


The minutes of the August 12, 2009 meeting were approved.


A summary of the ORSSAB annual retreat was distributed (Attachment 3).


The board elected officers for FY 2010. They are: Ron Murphree, chair, Kevin Westervelt, vice chair, and Ed Juarez, secretary.


Ms. Johnson reviewed the results of the evaluation of the annual retreat. The main points of the evaluation are included in Attachment 4.


Federal Coordinator Report

Ms. Halsey reviewed the status of two outstanding recommendations:

·         Recommendation 175 on the Integrated Facilities Disposition Project. The recommendation is almost a year old and is still in the concurrence chain. Input must be obtained from the Office of Science and Technical Information and the National Nuclear Security Administration before a response is sent.

·         Recommendation 180: Recommendations on Expansion of the CERCLA Waste Facility and Sorting and Segregating of Wastes Destined for the Facility. Mr. Japp is working on a response to the recommendation.

Ms. Halsey introduced Michael and Cathy Hamilton and Shelaine Curd-Hetrick as representatives of the new contractors for the board. The Hamiltons represent the MCH Corporation of Sweetwater, Tenn., and Ms. Curd-Hetrick represents IIA. MCH has teamed with IIA for the contract to administer the board and operate the DOE Information Center.


Ms. Halsey reminded the board that the EM SSAB Fall Chairs’ meeting will be held the week of September 22-24 in Idaho Falls, Idaho. She said the spring meeting will be hosted by ORSSAB, probably the week of April 20.


She told the board that the change of the fiscal year in October would be a good time for members to change committee affiliation if they wished to do so.


Additions to the Agenda





Mr. Lundy moved to approve the minutes of the August 12, 2009 meeting. Mr. Juarez seconded and the motion passed unanimously. 



Mr. Mezga moved to elect the slate of candidates for ORSSAB officers for FY 2010. Mr. Olson seconded and the candidates were elected unanimously.


The meeting adjourned at 8:15 p.m.

Action Items


  1. A board meeting presentation will be scheduled regarding development of the Critical Decision 2 package for IFDP work in FYs 2012–17. Carryover from May 13, 2009.
  2. Mr. McCracken will provide a report on the evolution of how the DOE EM program developed.


Attachments (4) to these minutes are available on request from ORSSAB support office.