Albuquerque Journal Staff Writer
The University of California has acknowledged the releasing of radioactive liquid waste into a Los Alamos canyon during the Manhattan Project that today is the subject of a wrongful-death lawsuit.
The university said in court filings Monday that "nondangerous quantities" of waste were released into Acid Canyon at Los Alamos National Laboratory during the development of the atomic bomb during World War II, continuing until 1951.
While the lack of environmental safeguards during the early days of the lab have been well-known, the historic dumping recently lead to a wrongful-death and negligence lawsuit in federal court that could be the first of its kind.
The family of Lowell Ryman, who died of the cancer in 2005 at age 63, claims that he was exposed to radioactive wastes while playing in Los Alamos-area canyons in the 1950s as a boy. The family says that exposure led him to develop multiple myeloma as an adult.
Ryman was 9 years old when he and his family moved into a home on Walnut Street in Los Alamos, where his father worked at the lab, according to the suit.
Between 1950 and 1953, Ryman was exposed to radioactive wastes including plutonium while playing in Acid Canyon, where the lab had dumped waste from Technical Areas 1 and 45, the family claims.
Ryman was also exposed to radiation from contaminated food, water and air, according to the complaint.
While no causes for multiple myeloma have been identified, research has found possible associations with a decline in the immune system, genetic factors, radiation exposure and other factors.
The complaint names as defendants the University of California, which ran the lab until 2006, and The Zia Company, the contractor that performed management, construction and maintenance duties until 1986.
In court filings Monday, the Regents of the University of California acknowledged solvents, metals, plutonium and other radioactive materials were discharged from the former Technical Area 1 into a tributary drainage of the canyon informally known as "South Fork" until 1951.
"Defendant further admits that former TA-45, located at the top of the South Fork of Acid Canyon, served as the radioactive liquid waste treatment plant and vehicle decontamination facility for the Laboratory, operating from 1951 through June 1964, treating the waste and discharging the remaining liquids from the mesa top down the canyon to the stream channel," the response states.
Both the University of California and The Zia Company filed separate motions to dismiss. Among other things, the motion argues the lawsuit's liability claims under state law are inconsistent with the federal Price-Anderson Act.
The federal law, enacted in 1957, governs liability-related issues at nuclear facilities and indemnifies government contractors involved in nuclear accidents.
The suit was brought by Ryman's daughter, Rene Ryman. Her attorney, Michael Howell of Houston, did not return calls for comment Tuesday. Howell has said the lawsuit could turn into a class-action suit if enough people come forward.