Apr 9, 2007

NMED Demands LANL Address Defects in Groundwater Wells

The New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) ordered Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) to evaluate and improve its groundwater well network.

Ron Curry, secretary of NMED, said, “This system is supposed to be the backbone of enforceable cleanup of the lab, as well as a sentry system to alert local residents of contamination issues. That system- which has many improperly drilled and constructed wells- fails both missions far too often.”

Data from LANL’s groundwater characterization network is used by NMED to determine and regulate the extent to which LANL must clean up the legacy radioactive and hazardous waste sites and provides early detection of contaminants in or moving towards drinking water supplies.

The network has come under criticism from community members because the wells have been drilled in the wrong locations, used muds and drilling fluids that mask the presence of radionuclides and takes samples at inappropriate depths among other issues.

In his April 5th letter to the Department of Energy (DOE) and LANL managers, James Bearzi chief of the NMED Hazardous Waste Bureau, imposed new orders to improve the condition of the wells. NMED now requires LANL to evaluate all wells in the groundwater monitoring network and replace, or in some cases abandon, certain portions of wells that have been found defective or deficient. NMED has imposed an accelerated timeline for when LANL must meet the requirements.

Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety (CCNS), a Santa Fe based NGO working on groundwater protection, commends NMED for taking an active role in regulating the groundwater network. However, CCNS remains concerned that regional drinking water supplies may not be adequately protected and questions whether NMED is taking a strong enough stance.

Among their concerns is that LANL drilled all of the wells with muds and fluids that prevent detection of contaminants and has used data from these faulty wells to question detections of contaminants in Los Alamos County and Santa Fe drinking water wells.

Joni Arends, of CCNS said, “The defective nature of LANL’s wells renders their water quality data useless. In order to protect public health in the interim, we must have monthly sampling of regional drinking water wells.”

In addition, Robert H Gilkeson, registered geologist, found that the remediation requested by NMED does not meet federal regulations. For example, wells are required to be located near LANL’s legacy radioactive waste dump, Area G. However, for one well there, NMED instructed LANL to seal off the uppermost sampling screen located at the water table, a depth required by regulations, and take samples from a screen located 65 below in basalt rock. Because the screen preferred by NMED is located in rock it has far less access to the ground water than the uppermost screen and will not be able to retrieve representative samples.

Neither LANL nor DOE have issued a public statement regarding the specific requirements sent by NMED. However, LANL spokeswoman Kathy DeLucas told the Albuquerque Journal that they are "in negotiations for how we're going to get it accomplished.” LANL will hold their quarterly ground water meeting on Wednesday, April 11 from 5:30 to 8:30 pm in Los Alamos at Fuller Lodge.

This has been the CCNS News Update. For more information about these or other nuclear safety issues, please visit our webpage at www.nuclearactive.org.

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