LOS ALAMOS — Los Alamos National Laboratory is winding down a decades-long project to find historical records dealing with chemical and radioactive releases from the lab and health-related issues.
The issue of releases from Los Alamos has long been an important one to people around the facility, where scientists have researched and developed nuclear projects dating back to World War II. The Los Alamos Historical Document Retrieval and Assessment Project was an attempt to review the lab's historical operations and identify documents that shed light on releases of chemicals and radioactivity since 1943.
The project director, Tom Widener of ChemRisk Inc., told a public meeting in Pojoaque last week that the documents don't provide a reconstruction of detailed radioactive doses.
"What we have done is a long way from a detailed dose reconstruction, but we were hoping to direct resources and attention to those things that warrant a closer look," he said.
A draft report expresses confidence there's enough information to reconstruct public exposures from the most significant releases, which would allow health professionals to judge if significant impacts on health should be expected.
However, the report acknowledges some documents may never be found because they have been lost or destroyed, and said others will never be read because they are not legible. It also said many participants are no longer alive.
Some people have called for the project to be extended, but Charles Miller, a representative of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said there's no budget for additional work. The CDC sponsored the project.
Lab managers said they are taking the study seriously.
"We're in the process of carefully reviewing the draft final report and will submit a technical response during the 30-day comment period," Los Alamos officials said in a prepared statement. "We will also request an independent peer review by the National Academy of Sciences."
A letter from Tennessee State University public health researcher Ken Silver, who has studied releases from the lab, and others contend the draft report has shortcomings, including no response to a document about a 1969 incident "in which levels of radiation went sky-high" in a hot cell at a lab facility.
"Monitoring reports I obtained in 1996 under the Freedom of Information Act had the handwritten notation, 'These figures should not be recorded on yearly reports,"' Silver wrote. He said the project accepted the official position that the lab facility room specified was not in use at the time.
Project leaders also named a panel of experts to participate in a final review of the draft. The review will decide what future steps are taken and what specific issues, if any, are examined more closely.