Jul 10, 2007

Elevated Radioactivity Found Around Los Alamos

Oh, and speaking of environmental issues...



Government Accountability Project

West Coast Office

1511 3rd Ave., Suite #321 • Seattle, WA 98101

206.292.2850 • www.whistleblower.org

July 10, 2007


Contact: Tom Carpenter, GAP Nuclear Oversight Director

Phone: 206.419.5829 (cell)

Email: tomc@whistleblower.org

Contact: Dylan Blaylock, Communications Director

Phone: 202.408.0034 ext. 137, cell 202.236.3733

Email: dylanb@whistleblower.org

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/doc/2007/FinalLANLReport.pdf

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.


Dylan Blaylock

Communications Director, Government Accountability Project

202.408.0034 ext. 137; 202.236.3733 (cell)

1612 K. St, #1100 Washington, D.C. 20006


Anonymous said...

Too bad about all that legacy contamination. It's gonna get worse though, because Bechtel is working to get DOE and Congress to approve their plans to get a big fat contract handed over to their pet LLC -- LANS to start production-scale pit fab operations at LANL. As far as environmental abuse at Los Alamos goes, you ain't seen nothin' yet.

Anonymous said...

This report will have a devastating effect on the already sluggish housing market.

Anonymous said...

What's the big deal? From the "What do the locals think?" post it appears as if the current new crop of LANL staff neither knows nor cares about environmental abuses at Los Alamos.

Mike Anastasio said...

Isn't it about time for another security episode -- to draw attention away from all of that lovely pit production money that we just can't wait to get our hands on?

Tell you what: I'll trade you one John Mitchell security breach for two environmental stories. Deal?


Anonymous said...

What are you talking about, 11:25? I've been told that the Los Alamos housing market was hot.

Oh, wait a minute...

Anonymous said...

Lived here for 25 years and have somehow missed all of the farm fields. Who knew?

Anonymous said...

...“Well funded and independent studies are urgently needed to protect public health and safety from health risks from Los Alamos radiation exposure.”....
Studies do not protect public health and safety - sensible action does. This statement from the very people pointing fingers at "corporate greed", etc now want "well funded" studies to solve the problem.

....“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.”....
If it is threatened it didn't happen just "now" It happened decades ago and wasn't driven by greed and fear but world war - if the nuclear scientists and others had turned to native elders for guidance at that time there would never again be elders, native or otherwise.

Anonymous said...

You've got to get in your car and drive about 8 - 9 miles to get the the farm fields, 1:10pm. You know, down in the valley. You know, downwind from Los Alamos. Do the names San Ildefonso, El Rancho, Jacona, Pojoaque mean anything to you?

Your ignorance regarding this bit of local geography is noted, without much surprise.

Anonymous said...

Too bad that what they did with the RaLa Program back in the 50's isn't better known. They'd fire the tests down in Bayo Canyon near where the sewage treatment plan is now, usually around 4:00 in the afternoon. They'd wait until the wind was blowing east, or northeast, and then boom! A plume of depleted uranium and screaming hot, short half-life radioactive lanthinum (RaLa) dust would slowly drift over the nearby communities, unmentioned. Glad I didn't live in any of the places listed in the previous comment back then.

Doug Roberts said...

Younger, uninterested, more Corporate-Minded LANL staff members aside, I found this post to be of more than passing interest, because I grew up in Los Alamos. I can't help but wondering how much exposure my family and I took during the period of 1950 - 1963, when we lived on Arizona Avenue in Los Alamos.

In fact, the article got me to wondering what the current-day exposure risks are for present residents of Los Alamos. I, for one, would be interested in seeing more extensive studies conducted to determine what the latent effects of LANL operations are, as they pertain to "collateral" exposures of townsite residents to toxins which seem to be the by-product of normal day-to-day business at LANL.

Doug Roberts
LANL, Retired

Anonymous said...

Hmm, guess I don't see a big deal with a 50 mrem annual dose---Typical background radiation up here in LA.
FYI- Anyone check for Radon lately in their homes?

Anonymous said...

50 mrem is, as you say, 6:57, insignificant.

Ingestion of a particle of plutonium that just happens to be lying on a blade of grass in your back yard is not.

Anonymous said...

Not to mention taking a deep, cool, refreshing breath of cool evening mountain air, and (without knowledge) having it laced with aerosolized beryllium from this afternoon's Two Mile mesa shot.

Anonymous said...

I'm told by long-time residents that you can actually *smell* the beryllium oxide as it drifts over LA, once one has developed a nose for it.

Anonymous said...

Wow, who knew of all the contaminants - time to file a lawsuit! It is what LANL-ites do best. In case all you bright posters forgot, we live at 7200 ft above sea level. Of course we are going to have "elevated radioactivity". Just like Rocky Flats, which is right outside of the Mile-High Stadium (ie Denver). FYI - while flying you get 100 mrem. Shocker!

Anonymous said...

It was expected that there would be denial of the evidence that there has been environmental pollution of the surrounding areas by LANL. Nevertheless denial is unproductive.

Do it if that is what you need to do in order to cope, but don't expect everybody to join you.

Come to think of it, given that this is Los Alamos which we are talking about, maybe you *can* expect everybody to join you!

Anonymous said...

9:05 is very smart -- he works at LANL. He knows best.

That report? It's bullshit.

There is no contamination.

We know best, we work at LANL. We're really smart. The report is bullshit. Ask us, we'll tell you.

Repeat after me. The report is bullshit. Ignore the report. Go about your business. The report is bullshit.

Anonymous said...

And a Washington DC based, self-styled "whistleblower" organization is IN NO WAY biased in its methodology? They have NO VESTED INTEREST in "discovering" new contaminants around LANL?

Just like you believe everything Greg Mello and Jay Coughlan and Danielle Brian say?

Anonymous said...

Response to the “Citizen Environmental Monitoring” Report, June 2007
Los Alamos National Laboratory, July 2007
Los Alamos National Laboratory places a premium on protecting public health. We
welcome input on ways in which we might improve our extensive monitoring regimen.
We regularly monitor for radiation samples from soil, groundwater, and vegetation (both
natural planted and crops).
The report “Citizen Environmental Monitoring” by Marco Kaltofen and Tom Carpenter
(June 2007) contains no new or surprising information on radioactivity in Los Alamos
County or threat to human health We accept on faith the data gathered by the team, but
we are concerned that the conclusions drawn or implied are erroneous
• Most of the radioactivity these researchers found in dust appears to be natural
lead-210, bismuth-210, and polonium-210, which are all progeny of naturally
occurring radon, which is not a byproduct of work at the Laboratory.
• The uranium also appears to be natural.
• The strontium-90 and cesium-137 are almost certainly from nuclear tests, as is the
plutonium at most locations. At one location, a sample was taken from a wellknown
site that is already part of Los Alamos National Laboratory’s clean-up
We will continue to review this report for any ways in which we might improve our
extensive monitoring regimen.
General Considerations
As stated in Section 5 of the report, naturally occurring radon causes a dose to humans of
about 200 millirems per year. Almost all of this dose comes from radon decay products
that stick to dust particles and are inhaled. One of these, lead-210, has a 22-year half-life
and so remains in the dust, together with its progeny, bismuth-210, and polonium-210.
The concentrations that one would expect to find in various locales are consistent with
those described in the report. Also, as noted in the report (Section 6.1), indoor dust
samples have higher concentrations than surrounding soils because radon gas diffuses out
of the soil, and radon decay products (which are electrically charged) stick to dust
Based on the isotopic ratios, the uranium described in the report also appears to be natural
and does not reflect the isotopic ratios representative of historical experimental activities
at LANL. The reported concentrations are consistent with those routinely measured in
Northern New Mexico. The concentrations of natural uranium, natural thorium, their
progeny, and natural potassium-40 are all higher in Northern New Mexico than in most
of the United States. And most of the radioactivity described in the report is consistent
with naturally occurring sources.
The strontium-90 and cesium-137 concentrations are consistent with global fallout. Most
global fallout was brought to earth by rain and snowfall, so the concentrations in Los
Alamos are higher than in the surrounding regions of lower rainfall. Nevertheless, the
levels reported in the Kaltofen-Carpenter report are consistent with what would be
expected in this region. Furthermore, the ratio of strontium-90 to cesium-137 is consistent
with the ratios observed in global fallout, and is not consistent with the ratios observed at
any locations associated with LANL. Therefore, the strontium-90 and cesium-137 are
almost certainly not from LANL.
At most locations, the plutonium is also consistent with global fallout, with the notable
exception of the sample from downtown Los Alamos, which is the result of
contamination from the Manhattan Project. The concentration, 2.86 picocuries per gram,
is far below LANL risk-based screening levels. Moreover, the sample location is
scheduled for possible cleanup in keeping with the New Mexico Environment
Department Consent Order.
We have reviewed the data presented by the authors and found them to be consistent with
our data and calculations.
Radon Resources
• http://www.epa.gov/radon/
• http://www.nmenv.state.nm.us/nmrcb/radon.html

Gussie Fink-Nottle said...


There is no header on the report contained in your comment, so we can't tell who wrote it. Was it a lab memo, or some other report?


Anonymous said...

Gussie - it's an official LANL response that can be found on the internal LANL website - submitted by the communications office. But who specificly is responsibel for this response is unclear.

Gussie Fink-Nottle said...

Thanks, 9:53. If someone feels strongly enough about having the lab's "official" views on this represented here, just grab the article off of the internal LANL web site and email it to me or post it here.


Anonymous said...

"· 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."

So, what - every Los Alamos resident should be issued a Swiffer WetJet?

MrsFB said...

Anonymous, 7/11/07 12:51 PM said:

So, what - every Los Alamos resident should be issued a Swiffer WetJet?

You might not be so glib if you were dealing with cancer firsthand in your household.

While there's not been any positive connection made between the environment in our communities and my pre-teen son's cancer diagnosis, the possibility exists that there could be. And, since he's also at higher risk than the rest of the population now due to his first cancer and his treatment, any factors that might compound or increase his risk that I can possibly minimize for him on a 'going forward' basis seem like good targets to take action on.

In regard to the reports that are being released, as well as the effort to determine if there are legacy issues which need to be identified with more detail (see www.LAHDRA.org for more info), I will always advocate for more diligence in awareness of what may be adversely impacting our environment and its inhabitants. I hope the ultimate goal will be prevention especially when I contemplate the opportunity to prevent another diagnosis of childhood cancer from being made and preventing another family from going through this particular gut-wrenching walk through hell.

Anonymous said...

mrsfb: isn't it equally glib for this whistleblower organization to imply that your son's cancer might have been prevented if you had cleaned under your refrigerator more often?

MrsFB said...

Well, yes and no.

If you've ever been in my shoes (and I have no way of knowing whether you have or not) and you're trying to make all the right choices once you hear the words, "Your child has cancer", there's almost nothing that doesn't hit your radar and sound both glib and at the same time, plausible or needing diligent consideration. The luxury of casual, flippant opinions or musing over subjects from a detached perspective seemed to be one of the earliest casualties in this particular slice of reality.

While a parent tries to maintain some level of stability and common sense in dealing with the immediate concerns of taking care of a sick child, there often are moments when anything and everything comes under scrutiny: Did I clean enough? Did I clean too much or with the wrong products? Did I do something to cause cancer in my child? Could I have prevented cancer in my child? Should I live here or is there something here that would cause cancer? Should we not have joined the outing to Mortendad Canyon with the scouts? Should he have avoided eating hot dogs or drinking sodas? Should we, could we, will we ever know whether any of this would've prevented his cells from mutating? Should I listen to the local experts who say there's nothing to worry about? Should I listen to the whistleblowers who say to worry?

You see, there's no end to the possibilities and even those who 'are here to help' from whatever corner they originate seem to add to the confusion rather than resolve the issues and clear the confusion away.

By my comment, I only hope to inform the readers that there are real faces and real people behind the concerns and many of them are innocent youngsters who, like my son, have done nothing overt to put them at risk for cancer. And also, by the very nature of the 'cure', that they now are at increased risks to even smaller exposures that may spawn yet another incidence of cancer which makes it necessary for our diligence to increase even more to ensure that we protect him (and others) even further.

First, we must try to understand where our effort should be invest though and that's where depedence on others, experts, becomes a tenuous dynamic. Who to believe becomes a 'who do I trust with my family's lives' type of question.