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Oak Ridge Reservation: Compendium of Public Health Activities at the US Department of Energy
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This Web site is provided by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) ONLY as an historical reference for the public health community. It is no longer being maintained and the data it contains may no longer be current and/or accurate.

2.2 Issue 2: Off-Site Exposure

2.2.1 Public Health Assessment of the DOE Oak Ridge Reservation


The public health assessment is an analysis and statement of the public health implications of hazardous substance releases from the Oak Ridge Reservation on off-site populations. The public health assessment evaluates the latest information, data, and findings from previous studies of releases from the Oak Ridge Reservation to identify and characterize exposures to off-site populations, and to determine which public health actions or studies are indicated. The public health assessment also includes an evaluation of morbidity and mortality data to identify potential adverse health outcomes associated with contaminants of concern. The public health assessment will (1) identify people exposed to hazardous substances at levels of health concern; (2) identify health problems occuring at elevated rates; (3) address community health concerns; and (4) recommend follow-up public health actions or studies.

ATSDR is committed to engaging the Oak Ridge community as partners in conceptualizing, planning, and implementing the public health assessment. The Oak Ridge Reservation Health Effects Subcommittee provides local citizens the opportunity to collaborate with ATSDR staff and learn more about the public health assessment process and other public health activities. The subcommittee will review many technical health issues and community health concerns regarding the Oak Ridge Reservation and will work with ATSDR to develop the priority of health issues to be addressed. The subcommittee will provide comments, suggestions, and recommendations, and input into the choices to be made in developing the public health assessment for the Oak Ridge Reservation.

Background and Agencies Involved

Under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (Superfund), ATSDR is mandated to conduct a public health assessment for each facility listed on the EPA National Priority List of Uncontrolled Hazardous Waste Sites (NPL). The DOE Oak Ridge Reservation site was placed on the NPL in 1989.

Time Line

ATSDR began work on the public health assessment for the Oak Ridge Reservation in 2000.


ATSDR is currently evaluating the previous studies of releases from the Oak Ridge Reservation.

2.2.2 Aerial Radiological Surveys of the Oak Ridge Reservation


Aerial surveys are carried out periodically to survey large tracts of DOE properties and adjacent public properties for total gamma radiation emissions.


Data collected from all six aerial surveys show that the gamma radiation level in the community is the same radiation level that is found in natural background. Based on the surveys, there is no indication of DOE produced man-made gamma radiation in the community.

Background and Agencies Involved

Aerial radiological surveys have been conducted by DOE at the Oak Ridge Reservation (as well as DOE facilities throughout the United States) since the 1950s. These surveys are carried out to provide DOE with knowledge and data on the total gamma radiation emission rates found on and around the reservation. Aerial surveys are a practical way to measure large tracts of land. Survey results allow DOE to determine if there were any changes in radioactivity levels by comparing the data found in periodic flyovers to natural background radioactivity.

Broad area surveys encompass the entire DOE reservation and adjacent areas, while focused surveys are conducted to provide data needed in making business or program decisions. Aerial surveys allow DOE to keep tabs on the overall efficiency of its radiological control measures and help make land use decisions.

Time Line

Eight aerial radiological surveys have been performed since 1959. The most recent survey was completed in 1997.


DOE plans to continue these surveys as needed.

2.2.3 Annual Environmental Monitoring Report


The purpose of the Environmental Monitoring Report is to provide comprehensive and integrated monitoring and surveillance for all media (air, biological systems, drinking water, fish and wildlife, food crops, groundwater, sediments, soil, and surface water) and the emissions of any materials (chemical, hazardous, radiological, and toxic) on the Oak Ridge Reservation and environs.


The environmental data collected to date indicate, with few exceptions, that the permitted releases (all media) on the Oak Ridge Reservation do not exceed current state or federal regulations. The exceptions are not imminent threats to public or environmental health. The release of contaminated groundwater from the Y-12 facility has resulted in the use of "administrative controls restricting future groundwater use" on private property adjacent to the Y-12 facility. Some streams on the Oak Ridge Reservation do not meet their state use classification due to uncontrolled releases from legacy waste contaminated sites. It is noted that if current institutional controls fail, the public would be at risk to environmental contamination from the Oak Ridge Reservation


The TDEC, in accordance with the Tennessee Oversight Agreement, provides an annual environmental monitoring report to the public. Oak Ridge Reservation currently releases low levels of contaminants to the air and water, treats radioactive and hazardous wastes, and disposes of solid waste and treated waste water. The EPA and TDEC issue permits to control these releases and the treatment and disposal activities. In an effort to remediate the legacy waste and assure the citizens of Tennessee that their health, safety, and environment are being protected, the state of Tennessee and the DOE entered into the "Tennessee Oversight Agreement." In part, this agreement provides for (1) a non-regulatory independent environmental monitoring and oversight program to supplement activities conducted under applicable environmental laws and (2) regulation and a regulatory-based program to support the state of Tennessee's participation in the activities conducted under the Federal Facility Agreement for the Oak Ridge Reservation pursuant to the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (Superfund).

Time Line

The DOE Oversight Division of TDEC was established in July 1991. The first Environmental Monitoring Report was released in 1993. Annual reports, based on calendar years, have been provided to date.

2.2.4 Off-Site Residential Well Sampling Program


The purpose of the off-site residential well sampling program is to identify groundwater wells that are used for consumption and bathing in off-site areas near the Oak Ridge Reservation and to determine the environmental impact on the area's groundwater from past Oak Ridge Reservation operations. The two major tasks in this project were identifying residences with drinking water wells and collecting groundwater samples from selected wells for analysis.


In 1995, a review of DOE data indicated problems with monitoring of some off-site well water. Detection limit problems at some off-site wells gave the false impression that elevated levels of radionuclides were in the well water samples. This occurred because the laboratory did not count the samples long enough to get the detection limits down to very low levels. Subsequently, DOE instituted changes to improve the sensitivity of its radiochemical analysis. Resampling of water from these off-site wells did not produce elevated levels of radionuclides.

In 1996 and 1997, a house-to-house survey was conducted in areas in line with X-10, K-25, and Y-12 facilities. Sixty residential wells were identified during this survey.

To date, no connection has been found to link off-site residential wells to DOE activities on the Oak Ridge Reservation.

Background and Agencies Involved

In 1993, TDEC began evaluating the DOE monitoring program data. In 1997, water samples were collected from 10 residential wells and 2 US Geological Survey monitoring wells. In 1998, 2 wells were added to make a total of 14 wells sampled. The TDEC was responsible for the collection of data and samples. The state of Tennessee environmental laboratories in Knoxville and Nashville conducted the analysis of the samples.

Time Line

This is an ongoing program. The duration of the program will be determined by the willingness of the homeowners to allow the state of Tennessee to sample the wells and whether a connection is found that links contamination to DOE activities on the Oak Ridge Reservation.

2.3 Issue 3: Reported Illnesses

2.4 Issue 4: Community Involvement

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This page last updated on February 16, 2005
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