Topic: A Tale of Two Waste Sites
Speaker: Deborah Green - Jahns Lecturer, Geologist Writer
5:30 – Social Hour
6:30 – Dinner
7:30 – Presentation
Place: Best Western Executive Inn, 200 Taylor Avenue North, Seattle, WA 98109, 206-448-9444
Once upon a time, decades ago, before many an environmental regulation was promulgated, a consulting geologist was contracted to evaluate a site for development as a low-level radioactive waste facility. The geologist summarized the regional and site-specific geology and hydrology. In his report, based on what he’d researched and observed, he discussed potential consequences depending on how the facility would be operated. If waste containers were emplaced in a manner that maintained their integrity and the trenches were covered when not actively in use, the geologist surmised the site had a high probability of functioning safely and effectively. In that case, the possibility of leachate accumulating within the trenches, resulting in perched water tens of feet higher in elevation than the regional groundwater level, would be minimized. Unfortunately, the tale of that waste site is fictional.
The non-fictional waste site’s story has the same opening chapter, but the operational constraints outlined by the geologist were not followed. The site received and co-disposed low-level radioactive wastes and those that would later be classified as hazardous wastes in a total of 52 trenches. Waste containers haphazardly filled the trenches, were breached as they settled, and precipitation collected. Indeed, the warnings in the geologist’s report were correct. Leachate formed in the trenches resulting in numerous contaminants, from tritium (which migrated at the same rate as water itself) to complex organic compounds (which underwent retardation, but still impacted the surrounding environment), flowing from the site in a newly-created shallow, perched water zone, years later daylighting on the hillsides and in the creeks down gradient of the site. This waste site’s last chapter was written in a Remedial Investigation and Feasibility Study when it was listed as a Superfund site. We’ll talk about how more sites can have happy endings, when the story the geology tells is heeded.
Deborah Green was born in Queens, New York, and traveled and camped throughout the United States and Canada with her family during her childhood summers, doing much of her growing up in the National Parks. She’s been a Westerner all her life, it just took her 39 years to get home. She now makes her homes in a passive solar adobe house at the north end of the Sandia Mountains in New Mexico and on a sailboat in British Columbia during the summers. In both places, she spends much of her time outdoors.
Deborah’s earth science teacher father informally taught her geology on their summer adventures and she fell in love with it. She holds geology degrees from the University of Rochester and Texas A&M University. She worked as an environmental and engineering geologist for 30 years in more than 35 states, with 20 of those years as a self-employed consultant. Active in the Association of Environmental and Engineering Geologists, a professional organization, Deborah has mentored many young professionals and championed the Norman R. Tilford Field Studies scholarships. The scholarships support students learning geology in the field. They are named in honor of Deborah’s late husband, an internationally-recognized engineering geologist, who died in a small plane crash on his way to lead a student field trip in 1997.
Having written poetry as a girl, she rediscovered her love for creative writing after establishing herself in her professional career. She’s written a poetry chapbook, Each Bed of Stone, and co-authored a book of poetry in dialogue with two other poets titled Triologue. Her first novel is loosely based on a period in her late husband’s life when he was working as the Chief Foundation Geologist for a large dam in East Central Turkey from the late 1960’s to the early 1970’s. Deborah was a Finalist in the 2015 Faulkner-Wisdom Novel-In-Progress Contest. She is currently revising the novel, as well as working on several shorter pieces.
As the GeologistWriter, Deborah strives to understand and convey the wonder of the landscape and the complexity of earth processes while also exploring the mysterious terrain of the human heart and relationships through compelling stories and essays.