Animal Burrowing Attributes Affecting Hazardous Waste Management. Academic Article uri icon


  • / Animal burrowing is critical to the formation of soils and contributes to the interface between geological materials and organic life. It also influences the management of hazardous materials at nuclear waste facilities and elsewhere. For example, residues and waste products from the production of nuclear weapons are released onto the ground surface and within engineered burial structures. Soil bioturbation has exposed radionuclides and other hazardous materials to wind and rain, thereby risking inhalation and injury to humans and wildlife on and off site. Soil bioturbation can expand soil depths and spatial distributions of the source term of hazardous waste, potentially increasing chronic exposures to wildlife and humans over the long term. Ample evidence indicates that some of the large quantities of hazardous materials around the world have been released from soil repositories, where they have also contaminated and harmed biota. Key burrowing parameters influencing these outcomes include the catalog of resident species, and their abundance, typical burrow volumes (void space created by soil displacement), burrow depth profiles, maximum depth of excavation, constituents and structural qualities of excavated soil mounds, and proportion of the ground covered by excavated soil. Other important parameters include rate of mound construction, depth of den chambers, and volume of burrow backfill. Soil bioturbation compromised the integrity of some hazardous waste management systems using soil, but the environmental impact remains largely unknown. Designers and operators of waste management facilities, as well as risk assessors, need to understand how burrowing animals influence hazardous waste storage.KEY WORDS: Burrowing; Environmental impact; Radioactivity; Risk; Soil bioturbation; Hazardous waste

published proceedings

  • Environ Manage

author list (cited authors)


citation count

  • 16

complete list of authors


publication date

  • November 1998