Jun 17, 2007

Lab, state agree to reduced fine

ROGER SNODGRASS Monitor Assistant Editor

The New Mexico Environment Department settled for a little less than a third of a penalty proposed last year to Los Alamos National Laboratory for violations in reporting chromium contamination in a groundwater monitoring.

NMED announced Friday that a settlement had been reached that included a penalty of $251,870 for violations of the laboratory's hazardous waste permit and a Consent Order that governs the ongoing comprehensive environmental cleanup program.

"LANL is pleased to conclude the settlement agreement with NMED," said Susan Stiger, LANL associate director for environmental programs in a statement on Friday.

"As a result, we will provide NMED and the public with more expansive and more timely groundwater information. We remain committed in letter and in spirit to meeting our commitments under the Consent Order," she said.

A notice of violation issued in September 2006 proposed a penalty of $795,620 with the offer to negotiate a settlement.

The penalty, along with some additional commitments from LANL, were the result of four groundwater samples collected between 2004 and 2005 that showed concentrations of hexavalent chromium in the regional aquifer below the laboratory at four times the drinking water standard and eight times the state's water quality standard.

Hexavalent chromium is considered harmful to human health when ingested, even in small amounts.

Almost two years elapsed between the first sample and the laboratory's reporting the detections to NMED.

The laboratory's corrective action follow-up on the chromium has been underway for more than a year now, including an effort to characterize the nature and extent of the problem.

Most recently, a monitoring well, R-35 has been installed in Sandia Canyon. Located along the presumed path of the chromium plume and 500 yards up-gradient of the county drinking well, known as PM-3, it will serve as a sentry well.

Hexavalent chromium has not been detected in any Los Alamos County drinking wells to date, according to the most recent quarterly reports.

"This enforcement action should remind the operators of LANL that they have a duty to report significant environmental contamination to the state and residents promptly," said New Mexico Environment Department Secretary Ron Curry in announcing the settlement. "Chromium contamination is a serious issue. It should be addressed as quickly as possible, and the state and the public need to be informed immediately."

The settlement requires the laboratory to review analytical data from all groundwater monitoring constantly and to report verbally within one business day if any previously undetected contaminant concentrations in monitoring wells exceed state or federal water quality standards.

The settlement also revives the role of the Risk Analysis, Communication, Evaluation and Reduction (RACER) project, which provides environmental data to the laboratory and the public concerning lab operations.

RACER will continue to be funded, NMED indicated, under the terms of the settlement.

During testimony to a legislative oversight panel last fall, Curry complained to the committee that he saw signs that the new laboratory managers were "pushing back" against their environmental obligations. Among the examples he gave was that LANL was proposing to let the RACER project wind down.

RACER had included an innovative program for public participation to help prioritize environmental "risks," as input in the cleanup process.

NMED's announcement said the RACER database, including soil and groundwater monitoring data, will be turned over to an independent manager, the New Mexico Community Foundation, by Sept 1, 2008.

A spokesperson for NMED said, "We believe RACER is an important tool in making information about environmental contamination from LANL more accessible to residents."


Anonymous said...

So now can I assume the next time I get a traffic ticket I. can negotiate it down to about 1/3 the going rate? For years the Lab has been fined hundreds of thousands of dollars that were waived entirely because of UC claiming to be the Lab's. absentee landlord. Now this? When will the free ride end?

Anonymous said...

Why should the Lab pay any state fines?
What would the state do if the Lab refused to pay fines?

Anonymous said...

Deny Los Alamos clean water?

Anonymous said...

How about applyng an environmental impact surcharge on Lab operations to cover those fines not paid by the Lab?

Anonymous said...

11:38AM demonstrates the problem. This notion that the Lab is an island unto itself... why must we always come across as the arrogant SOBs on the hill? What does this person think? Are we the tail wagging the dog? Is that really our view of the world? If so, then maybe that's why we have so few friends these day.

Anonymous said...

11:38 sounds like one of them arrogant butthead cowboys Nanos was complaining about.

Anonymous said...

Why Does LANS have to pay a fine for a problem (and delayed reporting) from the UC days of glory? The fine is imposed now because LANS is subject to pay them. It was not imposed at the time because UC/LANL was indemnified by DOE.

Therefore, I say pay the fine, but make DOE fork over the buck by considering it an allowable expense.

Now, if LANS gets a fine for an action taken (or not) during its tenure, then the fine should NOT be reimbursed by DOE.

DOE is the problem and should be on the hook for any legacy environmental issues - not LANS.

Anonymous said...

"What would the state do if the Lab refused to pay fines?"

Well if the state is anything like the service industry of New Mexico, probably nothing. If its like much of the rest of New Mexico, the fines will be covered by foodstamps and wellfare from state taxes mostly collected from those arrogant sobs on the hill.