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by Baohua Gu, David Watson, Kenneth A Lowe, Xiangping Yin
Publication Type
ORNL Report
Publication Date

This project is a collaborative effort between InnoSense LLC (ISL) and Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) aimed at mitigating the mercury (Hg) contamination problem at the Y-12 National Security Complex (NSC). The report summarizes the research and technology development work of the Phase IIB Project, led by Dr. Uma Sampathkumaran at ISL for the period of July 31, 2017–October 31, 2021. The Y-12 site cleanup includes technologies for safe and cost-effective facility demolition, soil remediation, and on-site treatment and disposal of mercury bearing wastes. One of the technology demonstration goals was a reactive strippable coating for targeted pre-demolition and de-contamination to limit Hg mobilization and the volume of debris requiring treatment for disposal. Toward this, ISL has developed a water-based reactive strippable coating (Trap & See-Hg™) to sequester elemental Hg(0) and mercuric Hg(II) species in the coating. The coating provides multiple benefits including (1) Hg vapor suppression, (2) sealing in the hazardous contaminants, (3) visually locating the contaminant through color changes, and (4) remediating the contaminated surfaces upon coating removal.

Through collaboration between ORNL and ISL in Phase II work, the team successfully demonstrated the Trap & See-Hg technology to (1) visually locate the presence of Hg on concrete, soil and drywall surfaces, (2) effectively sequester all mercury species (elemental, soluble and insoluble Hg) from lab-generated and ex-situ soil and brick/rubble samples collected from the Y 12 site with 80 to 95% efficiency to capture/reduce Hg vapor concentration, (3) be applied by manual and robotic spray applicators and cure at room ambient, (4) remain a cohesive and peelable coating upon drying, and (5) sequester Hg0 from walls in the alpha-2 building basement at Y-12 during a small scale in-situ field trial.

In Phase IIB, ISL’s effort was focused on refining the coating formulations with additives containing passive and reactive sorbents, colorimetric indicator, and thixotropic agents to achieve the desired performance. The paints were then evaluated at ORNL for applicability to metal and concrete surfaces of different sizes and shapes, and soil rubble, Hg-sorption capacity and achieving sag-free coating on surfaces when applied by a manual spray applicator. Ambient cure of the coating resulted in a dry thickness of 16–20 mil. The coatings were removed from smooth or rough surfaces with low to moderate force. Both lab-generated Hg-contaminated samples and soil and brick/rubble samples containing a range of Hg concentrations (collected from the Y-12 site by UCOR) were used in this project. Optimized formulations were applied to these samples and evaluated for ability to suppress Hg vapors, sequester Hg0 and Hg(II) species and color mapping of mercury species on the test surface.

The ORNL team initially identified three to four potential sites at Y-12 and ORNL for potential demonstration. However, the pandemic closed any possible avenues for on-site demonstration of the robotic spray applicator. The metal and concrete samples with low to high Hg content provided by UCOR from an ongoing demolition were subsequently used for ex-situ sample characterization and analysis at ORNL over a period of 25 days. The coatings suppressed Hg vapors with an efficiency of 95–99% from heavily contaminated metal and 60% from concrete substrate. Analysis of total Hg in the peeled paints indicates sorption capacities ranging from 12 µg Hg/g of paint from concrete to 1.2 mg Hg/g of paint from the metal substrates while peeled paints from soil samples could capture a total Hg from 2.3 mg Hg/g to 66 mg/g paint.
Toxicity characteristic leaching procedure (TCLP) tests recovered total mercury leached at 0.15±0.0008 µg/L for concrete to 126.81±0.67 µg/L and 377.25±5.67 µg/L for the two metal substrates, to allow for informed decisions on downstream disposal considerations. Together, this Phase IIB demonstrated the potential value of the Trap & See-Hg for Hg uptake, vapor suppression, and color mapping, and may thus be used to enhance worker safety during site cleanup, facility demolition, and downstream waste disposal at Y-12 NSC.