In 1988, the Kentucky Cabinet for Human Resources (CHR) Radiation Control Branch (RCB) discovered Technetium-99 ( 99 Tc) in private drinking-water wells northwest of the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant (PGDP). Technetium-99 is a man-made radioisotope that is a by-product of the fissioning of nuclear fuel rods and was introduced to the PGDP enrichment process through spent nuclear fuel rods from the Department of Energy (DOE) Savannah River nuclear facility. The discovery of 99 Tc and subsequently Trichloroethene (TCE) in drinking-water wells led the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the DOE to enter into a formal agreement called an Administrative Consent Order (ACO) under Section 104 and 106 of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA). The ACO required the DOE to investigate and address the nature and extent of the PGDP-related contamination and its impacts on human health and the environment.
On May 13, 1991, the Commonwealth of Kentucky and the DOE signed an Agreement in Principle (AIP). The AIP is a non-regulatory program that provides funding for independent, impartial, and qualified assessments of past, present, and future environmental and health issues related to, but not addressed by, CERCLA and regulatory programs at contaminated DOE sites. Agreements in Principle were initiated by the DOE to educate stakeholders about contaminated DOE sites with the hope that the additional oversight of the DOE facilities would ease public distrust of the agency.
On August 19, 1991 Kentucky issued the DOE a Resource Conservation Recovery Act (RCRA) permit for the treatment and storage of hazardous PGDP wastes. The RCRA permit requires DOE to comply with environmental laws and regulations in the cradle to grave management of hazardous wastes, worker safety, record keeping, emergency planning and prevention, and protection of public health and the environment.
On May 31, 1994 the PDGP was placed on the EPA's National Priorities list (NPL) which is a list of contaminated sites across the nation that EPA designated as high priority because of potential threats to human health and the environment. When a site is listed on the NPL and becomes a Superfund site, federal law requires that responsible state and federal agencies enter into a Federal Facilities Agreement (FFA). The Federal Facilities Agreement outlines the roles and responsibilities of the responsible agencies for the investigation and implementation of corrective measures at the facility and integrates state and federal cleanup requirements into an effective and comprehensive process. The DOE, EPA, and Commonwealth began negotiations for the PGDP FFA in 1994 and formally signed the FFA in 1998.
The Kentucky Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Cabinet (NREPC) Division of Waste Management (KDWM) is responsible for the coordination of the AIP and FFA programs in the Commonwealth. In order to fulfill its regulatory mandates for oversight and monitoring of the Federal Facilities within the Commonwealth, the NREPC entered into a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) with the University of Kentucky Water Resources Research Institute (KWRRI) on November 1, 1993. The KWRRI created the University of Kentucky Federal Facilities Oversight Unit (FFOU) and utilized the unit to provide the Commonwealth with sufficient scientific and technical personnel to fulfill regulatory and oversight responsibilities at Federal Facility sites across the State. Specifically, the FFOU:
- Provided assistance and support to the NREPC for environmental oversight and monitoring related to DOE and Department of Defense (DOD) facilities within the Commonwealth;
- Provided and coordinated scientific and technical expertise for the NREPC's Federal Facility related operations, and
- Provided leadership, coordination, and guidance for PDGP-related environmental research at the University of Kentucky.
The FFOU was created with two distinct sections; 1) A DOE/DOD Operations Section was staffed by full-time personnel that supported DOD, DOE-AIP and DOE-FFA related activities, and 2) An Environmental Research Section comprised of personnel recruited from both UK and a statewide pool of research personnel that conducted specialized research projects for the DOE/DOD Operations Sections.
In addition to the DOE/DOD Operations Section, additional FFOU personnel were supported through a separate contract with the CHR which was subsequently renamed the Cabinet for Health Services (CHS). FFOU personnel provide technical support relative to PDGP and Maxey Flats Nuclear Disposal Site (MFNDS) environmental, public health, and radiation issues to the CHS RCB and the CHS Radiation and Environmental Monitoring Section.
The UK-FFOU was administered via a contract with the KWRRI, which reported to the University of Kentucky Vice President for Research and Graduate Studies. Dr. Lyle V.A. Sendlein, Director of the KWRRI, served as UK-FFOU administrator from the unit's 1993 inception until his retirement in August 1998.
In August 1998, Dr. Lindell Ormsbee was appointed as Acting Director of the KWRRI and served as the UK-FFOU administrator until the contract was terminated in January 1999. Over the course of the FFOU contract, KWRRI personnel were able to eliminate a two-year backlog of document reviews and place the NREPC on a solid footing for addressing environmental issues associated with the PGDP.
In January 1999 the NREPC transferred the FFOU's activities to the KDWM. The Cabinet for Health Services opted to continue its contracts with the KWRRI for both the PGDP and the MFNDS. Since 1999, UK faculty and staff in several disciplines have received funding to support special CHS regulatory and oversight projects at both the PGDP and MFNDS.
In late summer 1999, following the emergence of PGDP whistleblower lawsuits, the University of Kentucky began seeking federal funding to support environmental research related to the PGDP. Several proposals were submitted through Kentucky's congressional offices to develop annual research earmarks related to environmental and health issues at the PGDP. Early earmark proposals included a proposal for a Kentucky Consortium for the Environment (KCE) that was submitted as part of the Kentucky New Economy Initiative. The KCE proposal was merged with a proposal from Murray State University and resulted in the formation of the Kentucky Consortium for Energy and Environment (KCEE) in 2002.
In August 2003, the Commonwealth of Kentucky and the Department of Energy signed a Letter of Intent indicating their commitment to promote accelerated cleanup at the PGDP. The Letter of Intent resulted in an Agreed Order that was signed in September 2003.
On September 15, 2003 the Kentucky Research Consortium for Energy and Environment (KRCEE) was established at the University of Kentucky for the purpose of supporting expeditious, cost effective, and technically effective environmental clean-up activities at the PGDP. The KRCEE was initially funded with a 4-year, $5 million dollar Department of Energy Congressional earmark obtained through the efforts of Senator Mitch McConnell and the Kentucky Congressional Delegation.
Dr. Lindell Ormsbee wrote the original proposal for the Consortium and served as the initial director of the KRCEE from 2003 to 2009. Mr. Steve Hampson has served as the associate director of the KRCEE and the on-site field activities coordinator since its inception. In 2009, Dr. Ormsbee, stepped down as director of the KRCEE to devote more time to the activities of the Kentucky Water Resources Research Institute and the University of Kentucky Superfund Research Center, both of which continue to serve as collaborating partners of the KRCEE.
During the first phase of funding, Ormsbee and Hampson developed an initial portfolio of over 30 projects that focused on a range of issues including: data assessment and visualization, ecological science, surface water and sediment, geoscience and engineering, and scrap and contaminated metals recycling. From 2003 through 2009, administrative support for the KRCEE was provided by the Kentucky Water Resources Research Institute. In 2009, administrative support for the KRCEE was transferred to the CAER.