US Army Corps of Engineers
Buffalo District

USACE Buffalo District supports nationwide hazardous, toxic, and radioactive waste efforts

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
Published Feb. 2, 2017
Neil Miller conducts a gamma walkover survey at Great Skills State Park, Staten Island, New York.

Neil Miller conducts a gamma walkover survey at Great Skills State Park, Staten Island, New York.

Buffalo District Health Physicists using radiation detectors to scan floors in a potentially contaminated building, similar surveys will be conducted at the NIST.

Buffalo District Health Physicists using radiation detectors to scan floors in a potentially contaminated building, similar surveys will be conducted at the NIST.

The nationwide focus on environmental sustainability has increased public interest in sites found to contain hazardous, toxic, or radioactive waste (HTRW); and for local communities with properties with potentially harmful materials on the premises, sometimes there is a perception that the site is unusable for alternative purposes. 

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Buffalo District takes these environmental concerns head-on with a team of individuals who specialize in HTRW investigation and clean-up. The well-trained team performs environmental investigation and human health risk assessments, remedial actions to remove or control exposure to hazardous materials, and monitoring of completed remedies to ensure they are protective into the future.  

The HTRW team consists of specialists in the fields of health physics, chemistry, environmental engineering, toxicology, industrial hygiene, ecology, and cartography; these individuals are at the top of their field and have been sought out by agencies such as the U.S. Army, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation because of their unique skillset and competence with HTRW-related matters. 

“The Buffalo District HTRW team is a great example of how we are "Improving Regional Processes" across the division,” said BG Mark Toy, USACE Great Lakes, and Ohio River Division commander. “This in-house technical expertise can be shared among other districts or agencies to reduce the need for duplicating efforts and passes on cost savings to the taxpayers while maintaining the highest standards.”

When the National Institute of Standards and Technology began planning renovations and construction for their campus in Boulder, Colorado, the Corps of Engineers Center of Expertise contacted Buffalo District Health Physicist Neil Miller to be part of the team that would conduct a radiological site assessment before the project moved forward with construction.

“Initially we conducted a radiological historical site assessment, which means we looked at log books, records, licenses, and talked with employees to identify potential areas and laboratories where radioactive materials might have been used within the buildings,” said Miller. “Moving forward we will go back to the site and use radiation detectors to scan floors and walls, and collect smears with filter pads to confirm or deny the presence of the residual radioactivity. Ultimately, we will have to collect sufficient data to verify that the facilities can be recommended for unrestricted release prior to renovation.” 

The Corps of Engineers typically performs historical site assessments and investigations at properties where there was potential for formerly utilized hazardous materials and also performs routine monitoring of active HTRW sites under both the Formerly Utilized Sites Remedial Action Program and Formerly Used Defense Sites program. But what really makes the Buffalo District stand out is their community outreach aimed at engaging the public on risks associated with HTRW. The team has organized numerous public technical demonstrations and have even participated in educational events held at the Buffalo Museum of Science, for example, covering topics ranging from evaluating radiation levels to the various types of monitoring options available.

“I think what a lot of people do not realize is that every day we are exposed to some level of radiation, but that is not to say that type or level of radiation would be harmful,” said Miller. “One part of our job is to ensure sites are safe for future use. A perfect example of this is when we performed gamma walkover surveys at a park in Staten Island, in support of our Baltimore District. A large portion of the park was made with dredged material which was found to contain some radioactive material and a portion of the park was closed. We were able to map the gamma radiation on small portions of the park and provide data that allowed for re-opening of a portion of the park for recreational use.”

The level of expertise required for this type of high-profile and sensitive work is significant, as the Buffalo District HTRW team is in charge of some of the most complex, intense and important work that the Corps of Engineers performs.

“Education, outreach, monitoring, and eliminating future risk across the Nation is how the Buffalo District is BUILDING STRONG and Taking Care of People!" said BG Toy.