Government Accountability Project
West Coast Office
1511 3rd Ave., Suite #321 • Seattle, WA 98101
July 10, 2007
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Tom Carpenter, GAP Nuclear Oversight Director
Phone: 206.419.5829 (cell)
Contact: Dylan Blaylock, Communications Director
Phone: 202.408.0034 ext. 137, cell 202.236.3733
Elevated Radioactivity Found Around Los Alamos
GAP Report Details High Levels of Radioactivity in Environmental Samples
(Seattle, WA) – The Government Accountability Project (GAP), a watchdog group and whistleblower support organization, published a study today detailing that elevated and potentially harmful levels of radioactivity are present in environmental samples collected in the area around the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) in New Mexico. The purpose of the study was to determine whether radionuclides related to activities at the Los Alamos National Laboratory could be detected offsite, and if so, whether levels of offsite radiation could pose a health threat.
The report is available on GAP’s Web site here: http://www.whistleblower.org
Eighty environmental and indoor samples were collected last November, and evaluated by Boston Chemical Data, Inc. Samples were taken from homes, farm fields, plants, next to roads, in a park, from vacuum cleaners and in local businesses. The samples selected were designed to reflect offsite conditions, and materials to which humans are routinely exposed. Results of the analyses for Strontium-90, Plutonium and Uranium isotopes, total radioactivity, and alpha and beta activity show that dusts and offsite biological materials are a source of radiation exposure to residents of the Los Alamos area. These radionuclides are man-made, and most likely were generated at the Los Alamos National Laboratory.
“We are concerned that a number of the random samples we collected contained potentially harmful levels of radioactivity. This study indicates that a broader and more extensive study is needed. We recommend that a health impact survey be undertaken to safeguard the public in and around the Los Alamos area,” said the study’s author, Marco Kaltofen of Boston Chemical Data, Inc.
The findings included:
· Indoor dust samples had higher radiation levels than surrounding soils:
Seven of the eight samples with the highest radiation levels were dusts found from inside homes and offices. Dusts made up only 20 out of the total of 79 samples examined in this study. All six of the highest total alpha screening samples were dust samples.
Human exposure to these dusts is troublesome as fine dust is more easily breathed into the lungs. Residential dusts from the Picuris Pueblo and from the San Ildefonso Pueblo were among the more elevated radiation levels in the set of residential samples studied.
One notable sample included an interior dust sample collected from the washroom at the New Mexico Environment Department offices in White Rock, NM. The measured activity from this interior dust sample was the highest of the entire study set. Assuming a 200 day per year exposure at 8 hours per working day, exposure to this sample translates into an annual exposure of just over 48 millirems per year per gram of dust, almost five times the annual permissible off-site dose permitted by the Environmental Protection Agency (10 millirem per year) from a federal facility.
Dust from a vacuum bag of Los Alamos’s newspaper, the Los Alamos Monitor, yielded one of the highest radiation counts of alpha and beta radiation. The Los Alamos Monitor is located across the street from LANL acre legacy waste site, known as MDA B, which is slated for cleanup, and is east of Technical Area 21, the location of the plutonium facilities.
· Significant plutonium 239/240 detections were found.
Three of the test sites near LANL exceeded state standards for plutonium 239/240. Portrillo Canyon sediment slightly exceeded the reference value. A sample of wood ash from the San Ildefonso Pueblo was double the plutonium reference value.
Most alarming, in downtown Los Alamos, soils in publicly-accessible areas were found to have the highest plutonium values of the entire study sample set – more than two orders of magnitude above the expected value. For example, a soil sample from an area next to the parking lot of the Los Alamos Inn was more than 200 times the state standard.
Strontium-90, a man-made radionuclide, was also found at locations over 42 miles away on or near Picuris lands and in the dusts of homes there.
· Remediation efforts are incomplete without reducing the release of contaminated airborne dusts and historic dust accumulations.
Radionuclide movement via airborne particulates should be minimized. Radioactive contaminants remain in residential dusts, and will remain there for long periods unless additional mitigation measures are put in place.
“The legacy of the nuclear arms race is a daily reality in the form of offsite contamination for certain residents of the Los Alamos area,” said Tom Carpenter, GAP Nuclear Oversight Program Director. “Well funded and independent studies are urgently needed to protect public health and safety from health risks from Los Alamos radiation exposure.”
Community reaction to the findings in the GAP report included tribal and citizen group perspectives. Kathy Sanchez, Tewa Women United, stated “This is a continuation of our knowing that our health was impacted long ago by the nuclear business at Los Alamos National Laboratory. Now there is scientific proof that we have been impacted. This nuclear business must be stopped and LANL must stop making its neighbors homeland casualties of war. We need more intensive, independent testing related to these impacts.”
Ray Naranjo, Honor Our Pueblo Existence (HOPE), stated “I am outraged that radionuclides and toxic chemicals are found in our homes and at dangerous levels. How will LANL and the DOE and its associates respond, now that there is more proof that contamination exists in the environment and in our homes? What steps are they going to take? Are they going to accept full responsibility? DOE and LANL have a trust responsibility to Native people and I pray that these issues are discussed fully with our tribal leaders and members of the public.”
J. Gilbert Sanchez, former governor of the Pueblo of San Ildefonso (1986 -1987), and the creator of the Pueblo’s Environmental, Cultural Preservation and Economic Development Offices, stated “The Pueblo of San Ildefonso made its first official visit to sites within LANL/DOE in the summer of 1986 and found indications of our food path being impacted by LANL/DOE activities. My staff revealed to DOE officials that LANL and the University of California were signing off on the annual LANL Environmental Surveillance Reports that were incorrect and misleading. LANL/DOE never responded to these findings, which indicates that LANL/DOE would rather cover up any negative findings, even by a Sovereign Nation.”
Sheri Kotowski, Embudo Valley Environmental Monitoring Group, located in Dixon, New Mexico, 35 miles downwind of LANL, stated “It is significant that Strontium-90 has been detected 42 miles downwind of LANL in dust in people’s homes. This tells us that it is possible to gather significant data using relatively low-tech and inexpensive methods. LANL uses SUV monitoring systems that have not disclosed the information found in this independent, citizen-based economy monitoring. We need more independent citizen-based monitoring throughout the region that can establish a link between the environment and the health of the people.”
Joni Arends, Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety, stated, “These findings indicate that the mission at LANL must be changed so that cleanup is the priority, not expanded nuclear weapons production.”
Jean Nichols, a property owner from whom GAP acquired a sample stated, “We are outraged that a way of life that has been around for centuries is now threatened by pollution from a culture of greed and fear. Nuclear scientists and others at the labs need to turn to our native elders for guidance.”
Government Accountability Project
The Government Accountability Project is the nation’s leading whistleblower protection organization. Through litigating whistleblower cases, publicizing concerns and developing legal reforms, GAP’s mission is to protect the public interest by promoting government and corporate accountability. Founded in 1977, GAP is a non-profit, public interest advocacy organization with offices in Washington, D.C. and Seattle, WA.
Communications Director, Government Accountability Project
202.408.0034 ext. 137; 202.236.3733 (cell)
1612 K. St, #1100 Washington, D.C. 20006