INEEL competes successfully for DOE EMSP funding

November 11, 2002

The Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory's investment in subsurface science is starting to pay off.

INEEL researchers won funding for seven U.S. Department of Energy Environmental Management Science Program (EMSP) projects, and will support three additional projects led by other institutions. This research will bring $6.2 million to the Laboratory over the next three years.

EMSP sponsors basic environmental and waste management research. Results are expected to lead to reduced costs, schedule, and risks associated with cleaning up the nation's nuclear complex. This year, the EMSP awarded seven of 35 projects to INEEL researchers, who will directly support the DOE's mission of environmental science through this research.

"This was a great year for the INEEL and I am very pleased with the contribution made by scientists working in the Subsurface Science Initiative," said INEEL Subsurface Science Initiative director Michael Wright. "We wrote good, solid proposals and the reviewers saw the merit of our ideas."

"This research will result in significant new knowledge of the movement of contaminants through the subsurface of the INEEL site," said George Schneider, the DOE Director of Environmental R&D.

Through their EMSP research projects, INEEL scientists will study how contaminants move through the subsurface, taking into account flow through cracks, flow conditions, and pollutants that attach to suspended particles. A separate team plans to create tiny particles of material that degrade solvents, and study how well they can be put into the subsurface and be controlled to move to where solvent contaminants exist. Tests will show how well engineered particles can clean subsurface contaminants.

Researchers will study how quickly naturally-occurring microbes can degrade a common solvent pollutant, trichloroethylene, a remediation approach being used at the INEEL. The goal is to determine the rate of degrading and the signs that tell the process is successful and continuing. Another team hopes to adapt a measurement technique that uses magnetic fields and pulsed radio waves to locate solvents (degreasers) in the subsurface.

INEEL's new Geocentrifuge Research Laboratory will be put to use to study the theory that soil moisture content controls the chemical reactivity of contaminants in the vadose zone (the saturated area between the surface and the water table).

And researchers focused on metals in the subsurface will conduct two projects. The first will study feasibility of using metal-reducing microbes to create passive barriers to immobilize heavy metals in the subsurface and degrade chemical compounds of carbon and halogen. The second project will evaluate how stainless steel alloys survive three decades of underground storage. Since most long-term waste repositories and disposal facilities will be underground, test results will help understand long-term integrity, corrosion impacts, and contaminant transport from containers.

"Since 2000, INEEL has heavily invested in increasing the Laboratory's capabilities to conduct state-of-the-art subsurface research by hiring additional staff and building research facilities. Our success in competing for EMSP funding is validation that we're on the right track," said Wright.

In developing their proposals, INEEL researchers placed strong emphasis on compelling collaborations with other institutions to leverage research resources. INEEL staff will be working with researchers from three other national laboratories, 11 universities and five corporations. One collaborating industry is North Wind Environmental, Inc., an INEEL spin-off company located in Idaho Falls.

The INEEL is a science-based, applied engineering national laboratory dedicated to supporting the DOE's missions in environment, energy, science and national security. The INEEL is operated for the DOE by Bechtel BWXT Idaho, LLC.
Technical contact: P. Michael Wright, 208-526-3315 or, or Michael McIlwain, 208-526-8130,

Media contact: Deborah Hill, 208-526-4723 or

For media representatives interested in additional information about the individual research projects, brief summaries follow.

INEEL physicist Paul Meakin will lead a team studying fluid flow in fractured material to test the idea that focused flow on fractures (cracks in the rock), intermittent fluid flow conditions, and the transport of pollutants firmly attached to suspended particles play important roles in rapidly transporting subsurface contamination. Part of this research will be conducted at the INEEL's Matched-Index-of-Refraction Facility, one of the largest fluid dynamics experimental facilities in the world. Other collaborators include researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Oslo in Norway.

Geophysicist Russel Hertzog and his team will study how solvents (dense, nonaqueous phase liquids commonly used as degreasers in industry) move through the subsurface using a measurement technique called nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR). NMR uses magnetic fields and pulsed radio waves to measure the hydrogen content in fluids and their pore-space environment. Researchers want to adapt the technique for near-surface environmental applications. His collaborators include researchers from Schlumberger in Connecticut, Stanford University, Montana State University, and Sandia National Laboratory in New Mexico.

Geochemist George Redden and his team plan to create particles 50,000 times smaller than the width of a human hair out of a solvent-degrading material, and then modify the surface properties so the particles will migrate to places where the pure solvent contaminants are present. A major challenge will be to learn more about how such particles (colloids) move through the subsurface, and how well their movement can be controlled. The team hopes to test the hypothesis that engineered particles could be used for active environmental cleanup in a subsurface environment. Redden will be collaborating with researchers from Carnegie Mellon University in Pennsylvania.

Microbiologist Rick Colwell and his team plan to determine how quickly native microbial populations can degrade the contaminant trichloroethylene (TCE) through a natural subsurface process that is being used at the INEEL. The goal of the research is to determine the true rates of this microbially-driven environmental remediation, and to recognize the microbial signals that indicate that the process is successful and continuing. Colwell will be collaborating with researchers from the University of Idaho, and North Wind Environmental in Idaho Falls, Idaho.

Hydrologist Carl Palmer plans to use INEEL's new two-meter geocentrifuge to test the hypothesis that soil moisture content controls the chemical reactivity of contaminants in a vadose zone environment. The vadose zone is the variably saturated zone of earth between the surface and the water table. If the hypothesis is true, then researchers speculate that contaminant reactivity can be derived from laboratory and field tracer experiments using environmentally benign tracers.

Geologist Mariana K. Adler-Flitton and her team plan to evaluate how stainless steel alloys have survived three decades underground. Since most long-term waste repositories and disposals facilities will be underground, data from this project will significantly advance our understanding of long-term metal integrity, corrosion mechanisms, soil microbiology, and contaminant transport. Adler-Flitton will be collaborating with researchers from Boise State University, Diversa Corporation in California, Edward Escalante, Ph.D., in Maryland, Gold Sim Consulting Group in Washington, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Maryland.

Microbiologist William Apel and his team will investigate the feasibility of using metal-reducing microorganisms to create a passive barrier that will immobilize heavy metals and degrade halocarbons (chemical compounds made of carbon and halogen). Apel's collaborators include researchers from Montana State University and Washington State University.

INEEL staff is also supporting three projects led by researchers at Los Alamos National Laboratory (New Mexico), and the University of Idaho.

University of Idaho's Robert Smith will lead a team to investigate the feasibility of immobilizing heavy metals within calcite minerals by encouraging calcite growth in a subsurface environment. By stimulating naturally occurring urea hydrolyzing bacteria, geochemical conditions conducive to calcite precipitation and co-precipitation of contaminants can be created. INEEL biologist Yoshiko Fujita will collaborate with Smith on this project.

University of Idaho's Mike Nicholl and INEEL researcher Tom Wood will conduct research to better understand how the physical form (gas or solute) of a contaminant affects its transport in a highly fractured, porous subsurface environment. Nicholl's collaborators include researchers from Savannah River Site Technology Center in South Carolina, and the University of Colorado.

Los Alamos National Laboratory's Robert Roback will work with INEEL's Larry Hull to studying field-scale fluid flow and transport processes in the vadose zone. The vadose zone is the variably saturated zone of earth between the surface and the water table. Roback's collaborators also include a researcher from the University of New Mexico.

DOE/Idaho National Laboratory

Related Contaminants Articles from Brightsurf:

Contaminants from Mount Polley tailings spill continue to affect Quesnel lake
Natural mixing of lake waters may resuspend contaminants deposited in a catastrophic mine spill six years ago, according to a new paper led by a University of Alberta scientist.

Mix of contaminants in Fukushima wastewater, risks of ocean dumping
Nearly 10 years after the Tohoku-oki earthquake and tsunami devastated Japan's Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power, radiation levels have fallen to safe levels in all but the waters closest to the shuttered power plant.

Environmental contaminants alter gut microbiome, health
The microbes that inhabit our bodies are influenced by what we eat, drink, breathe and absorb through our skin, and most of us are chronically exposed to natural and human-made environmental contaminants.

Co-occurring contaminants may increase NC groundwater risks
Eighty-four percent of the wells sampled in the Kings Mountain Belt and the Charlotte and Milton Belts of the Piedmont region of North Carolina contained concentrations of vanadium and hexavalent chromium that exceeded health recommendations from the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services.

Study estimates more than 100,000 cancer cases could stem from contaminants in tap water
A toxic cocktail of chemical pollutants in US drinking water could result in more than 100,000 cancer cases, according to a peer-reviewed study from Environmental Working Group -- the first study to conduct a cumulative assessment of cancer risks due to 22 carcinogenic contaminants found in drinking water nationwide.

Microbe chews through PFAS and other tough contaminants
In a series of lab tests, a relatively common soil bacterium has demonstrated its ability to break down the difficult-to-remove class of pollutants called PFAS, researchers at Princeton University said.

Urban stormwater could release contaminants to ground, surface waters
A good rainstorm can make a city feel clean and revitalized.

Bronx river turtles get a check-up
A team of scientists and veterinarians gave a health evaluation of turtles living in the Bronx River, one of the most urbanized rivers in the U.S. and the only remaining freshwater river that flows through New York City.

Microbial contaminants found in popular e-cigarettes
Popular electronic cigarette (e-cigarette) products sold in the US were contaminated with bacterial and fungal toxins, according to new research from Harvard T.H.

High negative pressure limits dispersion of airborne contaminants in hospitals and renovation sites
Maintaining a high negative pressure in airborne infection isolation rooms of hospitals (over -10 Pa) and in renovation sites (over -5 Pa) effectively limits the dispersion of airborne contaminants and dust, a new study from the University of Eastern Finland shows.

Read More: Contaminants News and Contaminants Current Events is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to