Aug 23, 2007

Lab Notes

Compiled by ROGER SNODGRASS Monitor Assistant Editor

Public meeting on groundwater provisions

The New Mexico Environment Department wants to tighten reporting requirements for groundwater monitoring at Los Alamos National Laboratory.

A formal comment and public meeting will be held from 6-8 p.m. Monday at the Cities of Gold Hotel in Pojoaque to discuss the proposed modification and listen to public concerns.

In a settlement agreement related to LANL's need to provide timely notification of hexavalent chromium contamination in a characterization well in Mortandad Canyon, the state and the managers of the laboratory agreed to additional notification measures under the Consent Order between the parties.

The Consent Order, signed in March 2005, regulates the comprehensive environmental cleanup program at the lab. A negotiated settlement in June 2007 reduced the penalties for the laboratory from $795,620 to $251,870, and included the new specifications for reporting contamination.

Among the requirements, the laboratory will be expected to review and report on a monthly basis all new analytical data from groundwater monitoring. Any new contamination found exceeding state and federal standards must be reported within one business day after the review.

Fifteen-day deadlines were assigned for reporting newly detected contaminants and other specified occurrences and changes in contaminant concentrations.

In December 2005, the laboratory reported that hexavalent chromium from samples and analysis had been found at elevated levels as early as January 2004, but had been overlooked for nearly two years.

In May the laboratory finished drilling a new test well in lower Sandia Canyon to further characterized the nature and extent of the pollution and to guard against contamination of a nearby Los Alamos County drinking water well.

The first results from that monitoring effort are expected shortly.

IG finds mixed results in DOE radiation testing

A federal auditor found that some DOE sites are, and some are not, meeting expectations for effective testing of workers against radiation exposures. Los Alamos National Laboratory was not among the sites included in the survey.

According to DOE's two-tier approach, biological or "bioassay" testing is mandated when significant exposures are expected, but when significant exposures are unlikely, the department's contractors are supposed to develop precautions to ensure that effective controls are in place to reduce exposures.

A report distributed Tuesday found positive results at the Y-12 National Security Complex in Tennessee and the Savannah River Site in South Carolina.

At Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, the auditors found that 16 out of a sample of 24 workers who regularly visited radiological areas were not adequately checked. They were either not tested at the prescribed frequency or were not tested for all of the radioactive isotopes to which they may have been exposed.

Smaller percentages (20 percent) of workers sampled at East Tennessee Technology Park and Nevada Test site were also found to be inadequately tested. At the Nevada Tests site, documentation was lacking in some cases.

The auditors concluded with the warning that the lack of accurate exposure history may affect DOE's ability to assess future health issues reliably.

"This lack of adequate exposure evidence is highlighted by the department's experience with the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act (EEIOCPA) and potential legal issues surrounding incomplete occupational exposure data from past radiological work," the report stated. "As of the end of Fiscal year 2006, the estimated future benefits payable to eligible individuals under the EEIOCPA was $6.9 million."

A response by DOE's Office of Science and Office of Environmental Management, did not concur with most of the recommendations, on the basis that the issues were about discretionary monitoring, not requirements, and that optional testing was a matter for the employee to decide. The response said that engineering and process controls for containing radioactive materials and reducing exposures are mandatory, and that air monitoring, combined with radiation and contamination surveys, were the preferred techniques for verifying the effectiveness of protective controls.

The National Nuclear Security Administration, which oversees the nuclear weapons complex, generally agreed with the report.
[Download the IG report here.]


Anonymous said...

I wonder why the IG didn't look at LANL.

Anonymous said...

The IG does look at LANL. So. does Congress. and so does the media. And that's the problem, they all just look.

Anonymous said...

No, the problem is that the IG knows absolutely nothing about radiation protection, information technology management, research, science or even actual bookeeping anymore.

They just read some crap on the internet, find out something "new" that someone thinks is a good idea, then go see if everyone has done it yet.

The DOE IG is one of the core problems in the Department. They have transitioned from being auditors into being roving incompetent management consultants with no training, no education, and no skills. They even have to outsource the actual financial auditing to KPMG now b/c they don't even have *that* skill in house.

And then DOE Senior Management typically just agrees with the findings because it's easier then arguing. I applaud EM for disagreeing, it happens rarely and it is a sure sign that the IG is totally wrong in this case.

DOE has the worst IG organization in the government. It's time to completely clean house there and ask which other agencies regularly inflict non-fraud IG audits on their independent expert contractors.

Just another thing that makes DOE special.

Anonymous said...

I have to agree with 9:15 here. I suspect 11:00 did not read the IG's audit report or has little knowledge of radiation protection. Hopefully he will educate himself if he works with radioactive materials.