The DOE used PFAS industrially as wetting agents for mist suppression during chrome plating and electroplating processes. PFAS at DOE facilities were also used in various industrial products, such as tubing, piping, seals, gaskets, cables, paints, coatings, and flame retardants. Perfluorinated chemicals were used on an industrial scale in Manhattan Project-era uranium processing operations.
PFAS at DOE Facilities were first produced on an industrial scale for uranium separation during the Manhattan Project. DOE also uses PFAS-containing products such as AFFF in firefighting activities. PFAS compounds leach through the ground, contaminating groundwater, and when consumed, can lead to certain cancers and illnesses.
Health Effects of PFAS
One can be exposed to PFAS through direct skin contact, ingestion, and inhalation. Prolonged exposure to PFAS can lead to serious, life-threatening illnesses and complications. Even in lower doses, exposure to PFAS can be dangerous as these toxins, with a half-life of about eight years, accumulate in the body over time, leading to severe complications, including:
- Negative immune system functioning
- Liver damage
- Disruption of hormonal balance
- Increased cholesterol levels
- Fertility problems
- Issues with fetal and child development
- Pregnancy-induced preeclampsia/hypertension
- Increased risk of thyroid disease and asthma
Cancers related to PFAS exposures include cancer of the pancreas, kidneys, breast, liver, ovaries, testicles, and prostate, as well as leukemia and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Studies show that thyroid, bladder, kidney testicular, prostate, and colon cancers are most commonly caused by PFAS exposure.
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Sampling of PFAS at DOE sites
A DOE survey on PFAS at all sites solicited information from various facilities to determine potential release and exposure. The PFAS at DOE facilities survey involved sampling drinking water, surface water, groundwater, soil, and biota, and identifying facilities and processes that may have used or released PFAS.
DOE sampled nine sites with on-site drinking water supply systems for PFAS. Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL) and Idaho National Laboratory (INL) detected the presence of PFAS. BNL detected PFOS of more than 10 ppt while PFAS detected in INL drinking water were less than 10 ppt.
Thirteen sites have conducted on-site sampling and monitoring of environmental media beyond drinking water, with each site reporting some detections. Four sites have active PFAS monitoring programs. In addition, 17 sites have conducted searches of historical records to identify possible uses of PFAS in production and firefighting operations. Only two sites did not indicate the presence of at least one on-site PFAS-related activity. PFAS contamination at DOE facilities is associated with landfills, fire departments, water treatment plants, Cold War-era liquid waste discharges, and fire training facilities. Most sites track and maintain inventories of PFAS-containing materials. However, none of the inventories meet the regulatory criteria for reporting under the Toxic Release Inventory requirements.
In 2019, the DOE Office of Environment, Health, Safety, and Security (EHSS) established an internal PFAS Working Group that includes participation from DOE’s National Laboratories actively researching technologies related to PFAS. They include Argonne National Laboratory (ANL), Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL), Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab), Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL), and Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility (TJNAF).
DOE discontinued using AFFF except for actual fire emergencies, suspended the disposal of waste containing PFAS except in limited situations, and established reporting requirements for PFAS- spills.
Release of PFAS at DOE Facilities
When released into the environment, PFAS leach into the ground contaminating groundwater. Fifteen DOE sites supply on-site drinking water. Only nine sites had been sampled for PFAS in their source and treated water by OCtober 2022. Sites with on-site drinking water are:
- Paducah drinking water is sourced offsite and treated on-site
- Portsmouth drinking water is sourced offsite but treated on-site
- LLNL-Site 300 has on-site and offsite drinking water supply
- Fermilab has on-site and offsite drinking water
The East Tennessee Technology Park (ETTP)
During World War II, large quantities of PFAS were used for uranium operations in ETTP. However, relevant storage, use, and disposal records are limited or secured. PFAS-based AFFF was also used at a fire training facility and is used in fire suppression systems. The site also has a landfill, wastewater treatment plant, and metal plating processing.
PFAS at ETTP has been released through fire training, AFFF release in suppression systems, uranium enchainment processes, metal plating processing, Manhattan Project- and Cold War-era liquid discharges, landfills, and a wastewater treatment plant.
Energy Technology Engineering Center (ETEC)
ETEC does not conduct fire training activities. However, the centre conducted small-scale metal plating and processing operations. It also has a landfill. However, there are no records of PFAS use at the facility. Thus, it is unknown whether PFAS were used or released at ETEC. The center gets drinking water offsite.
The site has a fire training facility, fire department, and AFFF-based fire suppression system. However, it stopped using AFFF in 2018. The site also has a landfill and a water treatment facility supplied by a water source from the Columbia River. Historically, uranium enrichment and plutonium production occurred on-site, as well as Manhattan Project and Cold War-era liquid waste discharges. Surveys and inventories show that the site stores PFAS.
Hanford provides potable drinking water to about 10,000 people living there. The 2019 drinking water sampling from an on-site aquifer did not detect PFAS exceeding the method’s detection limit. The water purveyor and fire department ensure the safety of firefighting materials and mitigate and monitor the exposure to water pathways.
Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant
The Paducah Site PFAS release is linked to AFFF use in fire fighting, uranium enrichment processes, metal plating processing, Cold War-era liquid discharges, landfills and burial grounds, a water treatment plant, and a wastewater treatment plant. The site began investigating PFAS contamination in February 2016 after the EPA requested information on PFOA and PFOS.
Employee interviews confirm that AFFF was not used to fight a fire between 1988 and 2020 but was used for training purposes at the Fire Training Area. According to anecdotal information and subject matter experts, PFAS may have been used during gaseous diffusion plant construction in coolants, process equipment, and grease and lubricants for vacuum pump oils, gaskets, valve seats, and seals.
The Paducah Site provides treated, on-site drinking water sourced from the Ohio River but has not been sampled for PFAS. PFAS were detected in the site groundwater, which is not in use. Also, agreements exist to provide replacement water and prevent the public from using offsite groundwater due to non-PFAS contaminants.
Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant
The Portsmouth Site has a fire training facility, a fire department, uranium enrichment processing, Cold War-era liquid waste discharges, legacy landfills, and a wastewater/sewage treatment plant. There are no records of AFFF use used at the Portsmouth Site. Anecdotal information and subject matter experts indicate that PFAS may have been used during gaseous diffusion plant construction and in-process equipment and lubricants. Hydrogen fluoride was not used to manufacture uranium hexafluoride at the site.
The site stores about 1,300 gallons of perfluoro-1,3-dimethylcyclohexane coolant. Other PFAS may have been used as coolants at the site. In 2020, sampling by the state of Ohio of influent and treated drinking water from offsite groundwater did not detect any PFAS.
Savannah River Site (SRS)
SRS has a fire training facility, a fire department, documented release of AFFF, metal plating processing, plutonium processing, Cold War-era liquid waste discharges, a landfill, and a wastewater treatment plant.
SRS conducts fire training exercises with AFFF releases; however, the effects on the environment have not been confirmed.
PFAS have not been detected in SRS-treated on-site drinking water. However, groundwater 10 miles from the on-site drinking water source and near firefighting facilities contains PFAS at concentrations greater than 1,900 ppt.
Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP)
In December 2020, the WIPP Industrial Health and Safety group searched the Safety Data Sheet (SDS) database for AFFF used by the Fire Department. The 20-year database showed no AFFF containing PFAS chemicals or their degradants.
The City of Carlsbad drinking water analysis did not find any PFAS. PFAS were not found in waste disposed of at the WIPP facility, based on a review of the WIPP Waste Data System.
National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL)
NETL-ALB has not documented any PFAS usage on-site. However, Cold War-era liquid waste was discharged at an on-site chemical-waste-disposal drain field. The PFAS chemicals used are unknown and unquantified.
The NETL-ALB, NETL-MGN, and NETL-PGH sites store PFAS-containing chemicals (about 100 pounds) on-site for R&D projects and facility maintenance activities.
Rocky Flats, Colorado, Site
The most significant PFAS usage is associated with on-site AFFF fire training. The plant also had metal plating and other metallurgical research, development, and processing activities, including plutonium machining and forming processes.
NNSA Kansas City National Security Campus (KCNSC)
KCNSC has active metal plating processing on-site. Tanks capture all wastewater that goes through the Industrial Wastewater Pretreatment Facility. Since the KCP-BFC facility has been decommissioned, all potential PFAS uses are historical and inactive. There was an on-site fire department and metal plating processing. Cold War-era liquid waste discharges and wastewater treatment discharges also occurred. The site stores several PFAS chemicals below 100 lbs.
The site drinking water supplied by municipal PWSs did not show any PFAS. Wastewater is pretreated and not released into the environment. The KCP-BFC groundwater sampling identified PFOA and PFBS in some samples.
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL)
LLNL has an inactive fire training facility and AFFF-based fire suppression system, as it conducts firefighting training offsite. The active fire department on-site does not use AFFF.
Research-scale uranium enrichment activities were done on-site in the 1980s and 1990s but are inactive. Metal plating processing is also active on-site. There were Cold War-era liquid waste discharges on-site. The site has inactive landfills. On-site buried landfills are managed through RCRA and CERCLA under Superfund.
Metal plating processing is active on-site. There were Cold War-era liquid waste discharges on-site. The wastewater treatment system discharges via misting or discharges are re-injected into the ground.
Los Alamos National Laboratory
NA-LA has an active fire training facility and fire department on-site owned and operated by Los Alamos County. NA-LA maintains a chemical database that lists several AFFF containers at the fire department as disposed of. The area has had multiple wildfires, but PFAS-based AFFF has never been used to put out these fires.
AFFF is used on-site within the AFFF-based fire suppression system for use in actual fire emergencies. All releases from quarterly tests are captured into waste containers. There have been AFFF releases to the Sanitary Wastewater Treatment System that stopped in 2018.
There is an active metal plating processing on-site, but it does not discharge to the environment or the Sanitary Wastewater Treatment System. There is one active landfill on-site, and numerous locations have historically received waste materials from the Manhattan Project and the Cold War-era liquid waste discharges. The site also stores less than 100 pounds of PFAS.
Municipal drinking water originating on-site did not test for detectable PFAS. However, PFAS have been detected in LANL groundwater during multiple sampling events. Fourty-four out of the 153 total ground and surface water samples collected by N3B in 2020 contained PFAS.
Nevada National Security Site
NNSS has a fire training facility and a fire department that uses firefighting foam. It also has Cold War-era liquid waste discharges and active landfills. EM-NP also stores various PFAS in small quantities below 100 pounds and 1,600 gallons of AFFF in a fire suppression system.
Testing of the NNSS drinking water and on-site source groundwater has shown any detectable PFAS. Also, there is no evidence that the Cold War-era discharges contained PFAS.
Sandia National Laboratories
SNL-CA has an active metal plating processing on-site. It also had Manhattan Project liquid discharges and Cold War-era liquid discharges on-site. KAFB runs the active landfills. SNL-NM stores PFAS quantities not exceeding 100 pounds.
Numerous drinking water samples have not shown any PFAS. Drinking water sources tested non-detect for PFAS at SNL-CA and SNL-NM, while SNL-TTR drinking water was not tested for PFAS.
Y-12 National Security Complex
Uranium enrichment was done in the 1940s as part of the Manhattan Project. Metal plating processing has also been done in the past and is currently. Manhattan Project liquid discharges, and Cold War-era liquid waste discharges were on-site. OREM operates several active landfills on-site.
Drinking water sources tested non-detect for PFAS. Surface water sampling results tested positive for PFAS.
Knolls Atomic Power Laboratory (KAPL)
Drinking water for KAPL-KS is provided by production wells located one mile from the KAPL-KS developed area. No PFASweredeteced in production wells during the 2021 sampling. Groundwater from KAPL-KS and Hogback Road Landfill flows into the Glowegee Creek, which is not classified for use as a drinking water source.
Argonne National Laboratory (ANL)
There is evidence of past metal plating processing at ANL, including a former nickel-plating facility remediated as part of a RCRA cleanup project. ANL landfills are closed. Cold War-era liquid waste discharges via French drains in at least one of the landfills. There is no evidence that uranium enrichment occurred at ANL.
Drinking water at ANL is supplied by regional PWSs. ANL has not been required or voluntarily sampled for PFAS.
ANL has a fire department, three closed landfills, a former metal plating facility, a former burn pit, and two operating wastewater treatment plants, which could be sources of PFAS contamination.
Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL)
PFOS detected in BNL water supply wells exceeds the New York State drinking water standard of 10 ppt. However, granular activated carbon filters have been installed to remove the PFAS from the water before distribution.
AFFF containing PFAS was released during firefighter training and fire suppression system testing and maintenance from 1966 through 2008. Groundwater at each of the nine foam release areas, at BNL’s wastewater treatment plant, and a former landfill has been impacted by PFAS.
Lawrence Berkley National Laboratory (LBNL)
LBNL utilizes two separate fire protection systems containing PFAS. LBNL does not supply drinking water. The facility also stores more than 100 pounds of PFAS. It experienced one release where PFAS-containing materials were involved.
Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL)
Liquid discharges occurred at the ORNL site during the Manhattan Project and the Cold War era. Some radioactively contaminated wastewater and discharge were discharged to settling ponds and surface water. However, it is unknown whether any of the discharges could have contained PFAS.
Several closed landfills on the ORNL site (solid waste storage areas) received radioactively contaminated and other wastes. All of these areas are undergoing remediation or hydrologic isolation.
The ORNL site stores over 100 pounds of PFAS compounds: Chemguard C364 AFFF and 3M Fluorinert Electronic Liquid FC-72.