Gas Contaminant Mobility at Subsurface Disposal Area


Beginning in 1952, waste materials, including volatile organic compounds (VOCs)contaminated with transuranic radionuclides, were generated during the fabrication, assembly, and processing of nuclear weapons components in the US Department of Energy (DOE) weapons productions complex at the Rocky Flats Plant (RFP). Following processing and containerization, drums were shipped to the Subsurface Disposal Area (SDA) at the Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory (INEEL). During 1968 approximately 9,691 drums were buried there.

In subsequent years, observations made during drum retrieval studies indicated that many of the drums were compromised on impact or suffered physical damage by compaction equipment shortly after burial. Corrosion also appears significant on drums buried for a few years. A large vadose-zone contaminant plume composed of solvents buried in the drums has been found beneath the burial area.

Phase partitioning calculations show it unlikely that separate-phase solvent has leaked from the compromised drums deep into the soil profile or that solvents have dissolved into infiltrating water. Rather, it appears that the solvents are evaporating out of the barrels into the air phase and further partitioning from there throughout the subsurface.

This paper describes the history of mixed wastes buried at the SDA, phase partitioning, and preliminary computer simulation results on gas contaminant mobility in the vadose zone.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.


  1. 1.

    D. Kudera, Estimate of Rocky Flats Plant Organic Wastes Shipped to the RWMC, July 24 (1987).

    Google Scholar 

  2. 2.

    E.C. Miller and S. Navratil, Estimate of Carbon Tetrachloride in 743 Series Sludges Buried in the Subsurface Disposal Area at the Radioactive Waste Management Complex, March (1998).

    Google Scholar 

  3. 3.

    S. Magnuson and A.J. Sondrup, Development, Calibration, and Predictive Results of a Simulator for Subsurface Pathway Fate and Transport of Aqueous and Gaseous Phase Contaminants in the Subsurface Disposal Area at the Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory, INEEL/EXT-97-00609, Revision 1, October (1997).

    Google Scholar 

  4. 4.

    INEL-96/0280. Acceptable Knowledge Document for INEL Stored Transuranic Waste-Rocky Flats Plant Waste, October (1996).

    Google Scholar 

  5. 5.

    R.J. Thompson, Solid Radioactive Waste Retrieval Test, ACI-120, TID-4500, Allied Chemical Corporation, Idaho Chemical Programs Operations office, May (1972).

    Google Scholar 

  6. 6.

    K.B. McKinley and J.D. McKinney, Initial Drum Retrieval Final Report, TREE-1286, EG&G Idaho, Inc. August (1978).

    Google Scholar 

  7. 7.

    R.C. Reid, J.M. Prausnitz, and B.E. Pauling, The Properties of Gases and Liquids, Fourth Edition, McGraw-Hill, ISBN 0-07-051799-1 (1987).

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information



Corresponding author

Correspondence to Wayne C. Downs Ph.D.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Downs, W.C., Oh, C.H., Housley, T. et al. Gas Contaminant Mobility at Subsurface Disposal Area. MRS Online Proceedings Library 713, 1148 (2001).

Download citation