Attorney General May Take Action on Area G Dump

Draft EPA Assessment Lowers Perchlorate Level in Drinking Water

* Attorney General Patricia Madrid said that she may pursue legal action against Los Alamos National Laboratory (or LANL) concerning the Area G hazardous and radioactive waste dump. Madrid made the announcement this week at a rally at the State Capitol Building. Madrid said that although she isnšt ready to make any decisions right now, if the New Mexico Environment Department (or NMED) issues an inadequate hazardous waste permit for LANL, she "will pursue legal avenues."

Twenty-seven political and environmental groups, including CCNS, who sent a letter to Environment Secretary Pete Maggiore last week calling for closure and cleanup of the dump participated in the rally. Area G began receiving hazardous and radioactive waste in 1957, but stopped receiving hazardous waste in 1985, although it still receives radioactive waste. Under the Resource Conversation and Recovery Act (or RCRA), LANL was required to clean the site upon closure. The groups contend that although Area G was never formally licensed under RCRA, between the years 1980 and 1985, it operated under interim RCRA status which requires LANL to present a closure plan to NMED for approval.

Madrid said that she would not make any decisions until NMED releases the latest RCRA permit for LANL. When asked if the Attorney General's office would be satisfied with anything less than the complete closure and cleanup of Area G, Lindsay Lovejoy, Assistant Attorney General, said that he would not discuss "hypotheticals."

At the rally, Secretary Maggiore said that he expects the details of the LANL permit soon, and would not discuss the future of the landfill until then.

* The Environmental Protection Agency (or EPA) released a draft risk assessment this week that would drastically lower the accepted level of perchlorate in drinking water. Currently, levels for perchlorate in drinking water are unregulated by the EPA, although in January 2001, EPA required that perchlorate be monitored in public water supplies serving more than 10,000 people. EPAšs draft assessment proposes a federal perchlorate standard of 1 part per billion over long periods of time for drinking water, which is far lower than the accepted 4 to 32 parts per billion used by state water agencies.

Perchloric acid is a non-radiological chemical that is used in high explosives, fireworks, and as rocket and jet fuel. It has been shown to cause thyroid dysfunction in adults and developmental disorders in children and fetuses. Bruce Macler, of the EPA in San Francisco said that recent findings of dangerous levels of perchlorate in drinking water are "worrisome from a health standpoint."

Perchlorate was first discovered in shallow groundwater in Mortandad Canyon in Los Alamos at levels of 80 to 220 parts per billion in March 2000, although LANL did not inform NMED of the contamination until Fall 2001. Recently perchlorate was also found at the springs on the bank of the Rio Grande near White Rock at 8.5 parts per billion.

EPA stressed that the draft risk assessment is conservative and will be subject to external peer review and public comment this spring.

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