LANL Outfall 051 Must Be Eliminated from Clean Water Act Permit

CCNS is challenging an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Clean Water Act permit that allows a daily discharge of up to 40,000 gallons of treated water from the Radioactive Liquid Waste Treatment Facility at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) through Outfall 051.  The facility treats radioactive, hazardous, and toxic liquid waste and then stores the drums of sludge containing hazardous waste.  It would normally be regulated by the New Mexico Hazardous Waste Act, which calls for detailed regulation and provides for enhanced public participation.  But, under an EPA rule, called the Wastewater Treatment Unit exemption, if a facility is regulated under a Clean Water Act permit, that facility is exempt from the Hazardous Waste Act.

Nevertheless, since November 2011, no discharge has occurred from Outfall 051.  In order to have coverage under the Clean Water Act, there must be a discharge.  Over seven years ago, LANL began its zero-discharge system by evaporating the discharge into the air.

LANL has struggled to keep the Clean Water Act exemption.  In a 1998 report about conversion to a zero-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 [Facility] would be required to meet additional [hazardous waste] regulatory guidelines regarding waste treatment practices.  … The [Facility] 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 enhanced public participation would be required.

The New Mexico Hazardous Waste Act and its regulations provide a higher level of regulation of the facility.  The regulations are very specific about protecting human health and the environment from the generation, handling, treatment, and storage of hazardous waste and providing information to the public.  Specifically, close regulation of the operation of the entire liquid waste system, including all the pipes and systems that deliver liquid waste to the treatment facility, the facility itself, and the pipes and tanks that are downstream are required.

In June 2016, CCNS, through its attorneys, Jon Block with the New Mexico Environmental Law Center, and Lindsay A. Lovejoy, requested EPA’s Region 6 office in Dallas to terminate Outfall 051 from the permit. and  In August 2017, EPA denied CCNS’s request.  In September, CCNS appealed the Region 6 denial to the EPA’s Environmental Appeals Board in Washington, DC.  The Board scheduled an oral argument for Thursday, February 22, 2018, in Washington, DC.

Lindsay Lovejoy, who will be arguing CCNS’s case, said, “This facility should be subject to the New Mexico Hazardous Waste Act.”


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