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Watertown Arsenal

Army Materials Testing Laboratory (AMTL) Watertown, better known as the "Arsenal," was established in Watertown, Massachusetts in 1816, and employed 10,000 people at the end of World War II.  The site was used for a variety of military and war-related activities, including weapons and ammunition manufacture and storage.  In addition, a research nuclear reactor was used for molecular and atomic structure research activities in the 1960s.  In 1987, the Army discovered contamination during a site inspection, and in 1994, EPA added the site to its list of hazardous waste sites needing cleanup.  Since that time, sources of contamination have been removed from the site and the nuclear reactor was demolished.  The first redevelopment at the site was in 1968 when the town bought 55 acres of the property and built the Arsenal Mall, Harvard Community Health Center, and Arsenal Apartments on a portion of the land.  From 1996 to 2005, seven residents of Watertown formed the Watertown Arsenal Development Corporation (WADC), a body responsible for choosing, negotiating with, and overseeing a developer who would create an office park on 30 acres of the land.  The parcel was ultimately purchased by Harvard University and includes the Arsenal on the Charles commercial complex, which currently has 39 tenants including retail stores, restaurants, a child care facility, a fitness center, corporate offices, and various other businesses. 


DU Fires:

Between 1955-67, unspecified amount of DU was incinerated in pits at the US Army Materials Technology Laboratory in Watertown, Massachusetts. Of the two uranium oxides produced in burning, UO2 is water insoluble and U03 water soluble. Uncontrolled DU fires also occurred inside the buildings when DU chips, that were temporarily stored in barrels, occasionally spontaneously ignited. The closest residential buildings were located 1000 - 1500 ft. away. Since 1967, DU chips had been burnt in an incinerator. High efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters were not installed until 1981. By this time, the surrounding area was so contaminated with DU that the annual whole body dose equivalent for residents living 200 m (650 ft.) away was estimated to 200 mrem/year. Although the use of HEPA filters on the incinerator decreased air releases of particulates greater than 0.3 µm in size, fine particulates continued to be emitted. The practice of burning DU chips continued until July 1992.

A review of the cancer incidence in the census tracts near the site showed significantly elevated thyroid cancer incidence in the census tract CT 3703. Yet the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) concluded in 1997 that the amount of depleted uranium released to air was unlikely to be at levels considered harmful to residents of the surrounding community. Few, if any, residents lived close enough to sites to have been exposed. Further, radiation dose estimates showed a lifetime cancer risk less than that expected from background radiation levels. 

 

 

WATERTOWN GSA

1. Site Identification
General Services Administration
Boston, MA
License Status: None
Project Manager: M. Bouwcns, Region I
LLWMMonitor: D. Orlando

2. Site Description
The Watertown GSA site comprises 5 hectares (12 acres) located along the north branch of the Charles River
approximately 11 km (7 miles) west of Boston, Massachusetts. The site is located north of Arsenal Street between Greenough Boulevard on the east and Coolidge Avenue to the west. The site extends north along
Greenough Boulevard approximately 530meters (1750 feet) and west along Arsenal Street approximately 240 meters (800 feet). The site is currently controlled by the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA).
Beginning in 1946the area that isnow the Watertown GSA site was part of the Watertown Arsenal and was used for depleted uranium operations conducted by the U.S. Army as part of the activities of the Manhattan
Engineering Distrk" (MED). This area was used for packaging and storing radioactive waste, burning uranium scrap, and staging radioactive waste shipments. Army operations involving depleted uranium apparently
continued partly under AEC license and partly under AEC prime contractor exemption in this area of the Arsenal until June 1967when records become somewhat unclear. In 1968the site was apparently transferred to
GSA as excess property.
In 1980the GSA site was identified by DOE as an area involved in uranium operations between 1946and 1953.
In the early 1980's, the DOE reviewed historical records regarding the site and investigated to determine il' DOE had authority to conduct remedial action at the Arsenal based on activities conducted by MED or the
former AEC. Records found by DOE indicated the GSA site was surveyed in 1967and found to be contaminated in excess of the criteria then in use for uncontrolled release. Some decontamination apparently was
performed at the site and then control of the site was transferred to GSA. According to some available records, the radiation levels met the guidelines for unrestricted use except for some areas on a concrete pad and the surrounding soil. The site was apparently transferred to GSA in a contaminated condition. The topography of the site has been reshaped to varying degrees by construction activities in this densely
populated area. The site is essentially flat and is located on a segment of what was once a swampy flood plain of the Charles River. Recent filling activities by man have raised the level of the site to form a terrace above the former swamp surface of between 1.8 and 2.4 meters (6 and 8 feet) above sea level. An artificial retaining wall exists along the western property boundary of the site.
Drainage of the site is complex and results from the interaction of natural drainage processes withmodifications
made at the site. The natural drainage pattern before filling and construction activities involved transport of surface runoff to several tributaries that dissected the site and discharged to the Charles River. These tributaries have since been removed or modified. A small stream reportedly traversed the center of the site from higher terrain to the west, but this was filled in the early 1900's. Asecond stream that emptied Swains Pond was rerouted to its current configuration and it currently passes by the southern boundary of the site.
Properties abutting the GSA site contain a mixture of recreational, residential, light industrial, and commercial
uses. The area between the GSA site and Coolidge Avenue to the west is zoned heavy industrial, the area io the
north is residential, the area to the east and southeast is open space conservancy, and a portion to the south is
light industrial. This area to the south encompasses a portion of the current U.S Army property at the flwmer
Watertown Arsenal. The GSA site itself is zoned as Open space conservancy.

3. Radioactive Wastes
In 1981Argonne National Laboratory (ANL) surveyed the GSA site for the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE)
and found levels of uranium contamination in excess of the DOE Formerly Utilized Site Remedial Actiol_


Project guidelines. Soil concentrations were as high as 960 Bq (26,000pCi) of uranium pc, gram of soil in one
location and one to 200 Bq (5400 pCi)/g in several other locations. The average soil activity concentration was
estimated to be 9 Bq (240 pCi)/g and the radiation exposure levels were about 5 to 8 nC/kg (20 to 30 _tR)/hr.
Contamination reached to a depth of 1.8 meter (6 feet) in some places.
The total volume of contaminated soil was estimated to be no larger than 12 ma (425 ft3). All buildings were
found to be free of residual radioactivity. In November 1986the NRC conducted a confirmation survey on the
GSA site and concluded that no changes in the activity levels had occurred since the ANL survey.

4. Description of Radiological Hazard
The principal hazards associated with the contamination at the Watertown GSA site involve intrusion and
ground water contamination. There are no immediate threats to public health and safety because the concentrations
are relatively lowand the amount of uranium on the site is small. The migration potential to ground
water systems is expected to be small because the uranium is expected to be relatively insoluble. Access to the
contaminated areas of the site is restricted providing little potential for intrusion.

5. Financial Assurance/Viable Responsible Organization
Because there is no license, there are no possession limits established for the site. However, the amount ot'
uranium contamination on the site is likely far below that which would require financial assurance under the
current rule. The site is under the control of the GSA, which has expended significant resources in the
evaluation and remediation of the site. It appears likely GSA will complete the decommissioning.

6. Status of Decommissioning Activities
On the basis of the available data, DOE determined in April 1986that there was not sufficient inft)rmation
regarding the cause or source of the uranium contamination at this site to provide DOE authority under the
Atomic Energy Act to perform decommissioning activities at the site. Therefore, DOE eliminated the site from
FUSRAP consideration. DOE then notified NRC, EPA and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts cfftheir
findings.

On October 15, 1986,NRC requested that GSA apply for a license to cover possession of the contaminated site
until release requirements were met and to submit a decommissioning plan. Subsequently, GSA agreed to
promptly perform the needed cleanup, but has not applied for a license.
In 1988GSA contracted with Chem-Nuclear Systems, Inc. to remediate the site and remediation operations
began that year. Although the high-water table limited activities that year, a concrete pad contaminated with
uranium was removed and disposed. Remediation resumed in 1989, but the discovery of an underground
petroleum storage tank and volatile organic compounds in the ground water limited activities. GSA's contractor
believes these compounds are coming from an adjacent property (one which was used extensively as a landfill
for organic materials) rather than the tank. Onsite sampling was performed in the spring and summer of 1991)by
Chem-Nuclear. On October 1990,a comprehensive site assessment of the Watertown GSA site was prepared by
the contractor and submitted to GSA. This assessment was forwarded to NRC for review in May 1991:
The assessment recommends that a small amount of additional uranium contamination be removed and a protective "cap" be applied to limit human exposure to the other hazardous wastes present. The land would then be provided to another government entity for use as a park with restrictions on access below the surface after complete remediation and capping. Shortly after submission of the assessment, the Army Corps ot Engineers, New England Division (NED), and GSA agreed that the NED would assume management of the
site. In October 1992NED submitted a proposed scope of work describing how it will complete the decommissioning
of the site on behalf of GSA. It also has agreed to provide an assessment of previous dec¢_mmissitming activities and the current radiological condition of the site by March 1993.
7, Other Involved Parties Loc_,lcitizen groups and Commonwealth of Massachusetts officials follow activities closely.


8. NRC/Licensee Actions and Schedule
• NRC approves work plan April 1993
• inspect additional remediation activities Summer 1993
• GSA subhaits final survey Septembcr 1993
• NRC performs confirmatory surveys March 1994
• release site for unrestricted use July 1994
9. Problems/Issues
Presence of high water table and potential hazardous wastes at the site.


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