UC Davis Faces Costly Cleanup Of Superfund Site

A 15-acre site on UC Davis’ south campus, the former location of the Laboratory for Energy-Related Health Research, is now facing a costly Superfund cleanup.

Scientists at UC Davis conducted experiments on beagles for the U.S. Department of Energy and earlier agencies from the 1950s to the 1980s for the purpose of studying potential <"http://www.yourlawyer.com/topics/overview/Radiation-Overexposure-Medical-Devices-Lawsuit-Lawyer">radiation effects following a nuclear fallout, explained The Sacramento Bee. Hundreds of beagles were fed a diet contaminated with strontium 90; the dogs were saturated with rays from cobalt 60, injected with radium 226, and frozen. According to Sue Fields, a manager with the university’s Environmental Health and Safety Department, one experiment involved exposing beagles to cobalt 60 for up to 22 hours daily, wrote The Sacramento Bee.

The remains of about 800 irradiated beagles were brought to the site two decades ago, said The Sacramento Bee. Workers also unearthed tons of toxic dog waste and contaminated gravel at the site, bringing most of it to a nuclear disposal site in Washington state. Fields, who is managing with the cleanup, said that “The technology then was dig a hole and cover it up.” Cleanup could run from $6 million to $100 million, she said, wrote The Sacramento Bee.

The research helped implement the above-ground nuclear testing ban and looked at how bone cancer develops from low-level radiation. The experiments stopped in 1988, The Sacramento Bee reported. In 1993, the EPA declared the location a federal Superfund site, splitting cleanup responsibility between the federal government and UC Davis. For its part, the Energy Department, after 20 years and tens of millions of dollars, finished its cleanup, destroying dog kennels, decontaminating buildings, and digging out toxic sludge, said The Sacramento Bee.

Superfund is the name given to the environmental program created to handle abandoned, hazardous waste sites, such as the UC Davis site, and allows for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to clean up these sites and provoke those responsible to either perform their own cleanup or reimburse the government to conduct cleanups handled by the EPA.

The site’s old landfills contain toxic and radioactive waste and, now, UC Davis, the area community, and the EPA have to decide next steps. Fields said UC Davis officials plan to release a draft report this week discussing options that will likely include groundwater monitoring, digging up the landfills, and moving the mess to a Utah facility, said The Sacramento Bee.

The college now must address three unlined pits where, from the 1940s to the 1960s, university lab waste and other campus waste was dumped, wrote The Sacramento Bee, which pointed out that of concern is a chloroform plume that is polluting soil and groundwater. Chloroform was used as an anesthetic in the research, said Fields.

Monitoring wells have been installed, a pilot project also pushes air into the soil to push out the plume, moving it through a PVC pipe. To date, said Fields, about 300 pounds have been removed from the plume. Other pollutants used in the research include tritium, a radioactive isotope of hydrogen, and carbon-14 (radiocarbon), said Fields, added The Sacramento Bee. Carcinogenic chromium 6 is also on the EPA’s list of contaminants at the site; its source is being determined, as is its removal.

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