.News Update 02/08/08

Citizen Groups and Individuals Sue DOE for Clean Water Act Violations at LANL

February 8, 2008

Citing significant violations of the Clean Water Act at the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), an alliance of nine New Mexico community organizations and two individuals filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Energy and the Los Alamos National Security, LLC, this week. The community groups and individuals said it was time for LANL to address the substantial contamination problems that are migrating off the lab's property.

Brian Shields, of Amigos Bravos, said, "We have joined forces to hold LANL accountable for more than 60 years of contamination that now threatens our future drinking water supply. Every time it rains or snows, these contaminants move through our canyons and springs to the Rio Grande. LANL needs to take immediate and effective action to protect our community's waters."

The lawsuit is based on several violations of the Clean Water Act, including failure to comply with water quality standards, failure to conduct adequate monitoring, failure to comply with reporting requirements and failure to have effective pollution control measures in place. The goals of the lawsuit include remediation of the sites in question in order to prevent future contamination of our waters.

Countless studies by the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) and LANL itself show that New Mexico's future water supply is being threatened by a number of pollutants that flow through the canyons to the Rio Grande. These include PCBs at levels up to 25,000 times the New Mexico water quality standard that is protective of human health.

PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, are a group of industrial chemicals used in electrical equipment as lubricants and coolants. PCB manufacturing was banned in 1977 because they bioaccumulate in the environment and cause adverse health effects, such as cancer and learning disabilities for children who were exposed in-utero.

Robby Rodriguez, of the SouthWest Organizing Project, said, "LANL has a budget over $2 billion. It is inexcusable that they are failing to clean up their toxic mess, which affects nearby Pueblos and small towns and cities along the Rio Grande. We want Federal and State regulators to hold LANL accountable."

NMED Secretary Ron Curry attended the press conference and said, "We welcome what's going on here."

LANL responded to the announcement by expressing surprise to the lawsuit even though they were put on notice almost two years ago. Dick Watkins, associate director of Environment, Safety, Health and Quality, said, "The Laboratory takes its environmental responsibilities very seriously and we are firmly committed to protecting human health and the environment."

The individuals and organizations filing the lawsuit are Gilbert and Kathy Sanchez, Amigos Bravos, Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety, Don Gabino Andrade Community Acequia Association, Embudo Valley Environmental Monitoring Group, New Mexico Acequia Association, Partnership for Earth Spirituality, Rio Grande Restoration, SouthWest Organizing Project and Tewa Women United. They are represented by the Western Environmental Law Center.

Steve Harris, director of Rio Grande Restoration, said, "There's a lot at stake here. We all have a responsibility to protect the Rio Grande from further degradation."

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