Outfall No. 051 at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) is a discharge pipe connected the Radioactive Liquid Waste Treatment Facility (RLWTF). After November 2010, the RLWTF became a zero-liquid-discharge system. Since then LANL has been using a Mechanical Evaporator System (MES) to evaporate treated water into the air, and nothing has been discharged through the Outfall. Nevertheless, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) still includes Outfall 051 in the Clean Water Act permit that it issues to LANL.
This has a serious impact. The Radioactive Liquid Waste Treatment Facility manages a lot of hazardous waste, and it would normally be regulated by the State of New Mexico under the New Mexico Hazardous Waste Act. But, under an EPA rule called the Wastewater Treatment Unit exemption, if LANL is regulated under a Clean Water Act permit, Outfall 051 and its source, the RLWTF, are exempt from the New Mexico Hazardous Waste Act.
LANL has struggled to keep this exemption. In a 1998 report about converting the RLWTF to a zero-liquid-discharge system, LANL acknowledged that if it stopped discharging through Outfall 051, it could lose the exemption, and the “[L]oss of this exemption would mean that the RLWTF would be required to meet additional [federal hazardous waste law and regulations in the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act] RCRA regulatory guidelines regarding waste treatment practices. RCRA guidelines regarding waste treatment at the RLWTF would focus on concentrations of metals and organics in the RO [reverse osmosis] concentrate stream and sludges produced at the RLWTF. The RLWTF would need to manage the [pollutants] in the waste stream and so have much better knowledge of, and control over, waste discharged to it for treatment.” It also acknowledged that citizen oversight would increase under the hazardous waste regulations.
Now, in 2016, the RLWTF has had a zero-liquid-discharge system for over five years. Even so, EPA has issued a Clean Water Act permit for Outfall 051, thereby continuing its exemption from Hazardous Waste Act regulation. EPA claims it did so because LANL said it might someday need to discharge pollutants. But LANL has not used the Outfall for more than five years.
Further, the Clean Water Act only regulates facilities that actually discharge pollutants. Outfall 051 does not discharge anything. Its only apparent reason for existing is to obtain a needless Clean Water Act permit that blocks New Mexico from regulating the RLWTF under the New Mexico Hazardous Waste Act.
Last week, CCNS, through its attorneys, Jon Block with the New Mexico Environmental Law Center http://www.nmenvirolaw.org/, and Lindsay A. Lovejoy http://lindsaylovejoy.com/, requested EPA to terminate Outfall 051 from the permit. Outfall 051 Region 6 letter 6-17-16, CCNS APPLICATION TO RESCIND RLWTF NPDES PERMIT-20160617, Exhibit List CCNS Petition to EPA Region 6 6-17-16.
Joni Arends, of CCNS, said, “LANL has been hiding behind the wastewater treatment unit exemption for nearly six years. EPA should terminate Outfall 051 from the Clean Water Act permit so that the State of New Mexico can take on the regulation of this hazardous waste facility.”