RICHLAND - Sunnyside High School graduate Wilson Tramel is among a group of students who deliver results that may have an impact on clean-up efforts at Hanford.
He wanted to get into the pharmacology program at Columbia Basin Community College. To do so he needed to take an introduction to statistics class.
Tramel said the teacher, Linda Rogers, requires her students to complete a project each quarter. He happened to be in her class when CBC was approached by officials in an effort to analyze groundwater data that has been collected at a hydraulic head since 1988. Officials also wanted an analysis of analyte concentrations that have been measured since 1990.
He said the Department of Ecology has been collecting the data, but needed an analysis.
Rogers believed the project would benefit the students in her introductory to statistics class.
"There were about 50 students on the project when it started," said Tramel, noting some students elected to drop out of the project during the course.
Six of the remaining students recently provided a presentation to the Department of Ecology, explaining the results of the unique analysis.
"This is the first time the data has been analyzed like this," said Tramel, noting he spent approximately 100 hours on the project.
Using the numbers that were provided to the students, numbers that Tramel said are available online, changes in groundwater elevations and direction of travel were tracked.
He said the students found the groundwater moved east before waste was dumped on the area of the Hanford site that was analyzed. As waste was dumped on the site, the groundwater began traveling southwest.
Tramel said clean-up efforts have begun the reversal of this occurrence and the students found groundwater is now traveling southeast.
"The biggest part of the project involved an analysis of four analytes...nitrates, sulfate, uranium and technetium-99, an isotope," said Tramel.
With the shift in groundwater movement, he said, the concentration levels of analytes also change.
"We looked at concentration levels in different sampling wells," Tramel noted.
He said the students divided the well locations according to four sectors and found three analytes are approaching or above safe drinking water levels.
Uranium concentrations, Tramel said, are well below the drinking water standards.
"So, we threw those numbers out."
Tramel said analyzing the levels of the other three analytes, the students determined which of the four sectors needed to become a priority for clean-up efforts.
"Technetium-99 is hazardous and we determined clean-up of that analyte needed to be a priority," he said.
There was another part of the project that the students completed, surprising officials.
Tramel said Department of Ecology officials and officials at Hanford were surprised to learn that technetium and nitrates are closely related. So, too, are nitrates and sulfate.
As a result, Tramel said, it is easier to determine the concentrations of either sulfate or technetium-99 based on the concentration of nitrates.
"This experience changed how I look at statistics and numbers," said the SHS graduate.
He said he didn't have a prior interest in statistics before working on the project for which the Department of Ecology has recognized the work of the students.
Tramel said the experience has also led to other opportunities for the students, some of whom are seeking internships at Hanford because of what they learned.
"This (project) and using statistics for analysis like this is just getting started," said Tramel.