ERIE Research Projects

Analysis of zeolitic materials for remediation of strontium contaminated groundwater at West Valley Demonstration Project


ERIE Fellows: Shannon Seneca, Civil (Environmental) Engineering
Faculty: Alan J. Rabideau, Civil (Environmental) Engineering
Other UB Researchers: Karl Bandilla; Colleen Bronner; Erin Ross
Research Partners/Collaborators: West Valley Environmental Services, LLC; AMEC Geomatrix and the US Department of Energy

Key terms:

Zeolite, Strontium, West Valley Demonstration Project


The West Valley Development Project(WVDP) in West Valley, NY is the site of a former nuclear fuel reprocessing plant. Today, the site's groundwater is contaminated by a plume of Strontium-90, which began from a leak under the former plant's main processing building in the 1970. However, the contamination was not discovered until 1993.

West Valley Development Project. Photograph courtesy of West Valley Environmental Services.

Recently, West Valley Environmental Services partnered with AMEC Geomatrix and UB to determine the best method of containing the contamination on site. The selected technology was a Permeable Treatment Wall (PTW). As contaminated groundwater passes through a PTW, the contaminant reacts will the PTW's media (e.g., zeolite), so that the groundwater passing through the other side is decontaminated. In the case of WVDP, a zeolite barrier was to be designed to remove Strontium-90 from groundwater through cation-exchange reactions. A pilot permeable treatment wall (PTW) had been installed in December 1999 (see New York Times article from 2000), and the current project used lessons learned from the pilot PTW and advancements in the technology when designing the current PTW.


Schematic of Permeable Treatment Wall. Photograph courtesy of West Valley Environmental Services.

In 2009. a UB research team led by Dr. Alan J. Rabideau (professor) and Shannon Seneca (Ph.D. student) began investigating the capacity of two types of natural zeolitic materials to adsorb radioactive strontium (Sr-90). The analysis performed at UB consisted of characterizing the zeolite using batch and column experiments, both at UB and on-site at WVDP. Results were used to determine which material was most suitable for use in the PTW and to predict the longevity of the PTW. In addition, each lot of zeolite sent by the mine to WVDP for use in the PTW, was tested by UB researchers to ensure the zeolite had a similar performance capacity as that used in the column experiments. Other members of the UB research team were Colleen Bronner(Ph.D. student) and Erin Ross (master's student).

UB Column Experiments with different types of zeolitic materials. Photograph by Colleen Bronner.

In October 2010, a PTW was constructed on the site. The 850 feet long, 3 feet wide and 19 to 30 feet deep PTW was constructed using a One-Pass Trecher Installation. One metric ton of Bear River Zeolite, the zeolite that performed best in the UB experiments, was used.


Construction of PTW during October 2010 using One-Pass Trencher. Photograph courtesy of West Valley Environmental Services.

With the installation of the PTW in late October 2010, the project and UB researchers have received local and national press.

NPR's All Things Considered (Aired December 27, 2010)

Buffalo's YNN News Interview with Dr. Alan Rabideau and Shannon Seneca (October 27, 2010)

Buffalo News's Article and Video featuring Dr. Alan Rabideau (October 22, 2010)

UB team with AMEC Geomatrix consultants at WDVP during construction of PRB. Photograph courtesy of West Valley Environmental Services.