By ANDY LENDERMAN | The New Mexican
July 10, 2007
Lab officials say there’s nothing new in report on airborne particlesInvestigators have found higher than expected levels of radioactive dust in homes and businesses from White Rock to Picuris Pueblo and are calling for more aggressive monitoring of airborne contaminants — a potential health risk — in the area around Los Alamos National Laboratory.
Officials with the Government Accountability Project, which reported on their findings Tuesday, are concerned about the nature of the pollution since people are more likely to be exposed to the contamination because it is in the form of fine dust that can travel easily and lodge in the lungs.
But lab officials say there’s nothing new in the report, and much of the contamination caught by citizen watchdogs is either naturally occurring or nuclear fallout from nuclear weapons explosions conducted during the Cold War.
Indoor dust samples had higher radiation levels than surrounding soils, and three locations in Los Alamos had higher plutonium levels than safe soil standards established by the New Mexico Environment Department. The report covered Los Alamos, White Rock, and San Ildefonso and Picuris pueblos.
“For area residents, low off-site levels of radioactivity can translate into higher human health risk levels than on-sight materials,” the report says, referring to the lab. “Radioactive contaminants collect in residential dusts, and will remain there for long periods unless additional mitigation measures are put in place.”
Eighty samples were taken from farm fields, homes, businesses and other locations from November 2006 to last May.
“What we think this study means is that there needs to be more independent studies,” Tom Carpenter of the Washington, D.C., based Government Accountability Project said. “We think that the citizens around here should demand that Los Alamos and the government do a better job looking at pathways, human pathways for radiological exposure. We think that dust pathways are ignored.”
An environmental scientist from Los Alamos lab said the radioactive isotopes associated with nuclear weapons — plutonium, strontium and cesium — were reported in the same concentrations and ratios that have shown up all over the country. And that’s why Los Alamos thinks the contamination found by the activist group, with one exception, comes from old nuclear weapons tests and not lab activity.
“Lab contamination does not have that same ratio. …,” scientist Mike McNaughton said. “LANL contamination has different ratios, different proportions.”
Lab officials did not disagree with the measurements reported in the Government Accountability Project report.
And most of the radioactivity found in dust appears to come from naturally occurring radon, the lab reports.
Another lab scientist, Craig Eberhart, said it’s not unusual for radon levels to be higher inside than outside.
Still, most of the environmental study done by the lab is conducted on lab property, and most of it is done by scientists employed by the lab, said Marco Kaltofen, a Boston-based scientist who analyzed the samples.
“Knowledge is power,” Kaltofen said. “Find out exactly what we’re dealing with.”
Carpenter said the Government Accountability Project intends to raise more money for a bigger study and return to New Mexico.
Contact Andy Lenderman at 995-3827 or firstname.lastname@example.org.