Contaminated Spring Discovered Near LANL

CDC and NCI Fallout Cancer Risk Study Reviewed

* The New Mexico Environment Department (or NMED) released data this week from another contaminated spring feeding into the Rio Grande near Los Alamos National Laboratory (or LANL). The spring was discovered on the west-side riverbank during a citizens' monitoring initiative by Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety (or CCNS) in October 2002, in which NMED representatives participated. Chemical analysis of the water coming from the spring indicated contamination from uranium, gross alpha emissions, tritium, and nitrate.

NMED found 17.9 parts of uranium per billion parts of water, 14.9 picoCuries per gram of gross alpha, nearly 11 picoCuries per gram of tritium and over 5 picoCuries per gram of nitrate. The levels of contaminants do not exceed either the New Mexico Water Quality Control Commission standards or the Environmental Protection Agency standards. Nevertheless, the levels for uranium and gross alpha were found to be as much as 90% of the total standard for water contamination.

The stream is located downhill from Technical Area-50, which is LANL's radioactive liquid waste treatment facility. NMED representatives said that the recent discovery signals that underground contamination is moving much faster than LANL estimates. James Bearzi, head of NMEDıs hazardous waste bureau, said, "Things are not as rosy as [LANL] would have it."

The findings have led NMED to question LANL's modeling practices. LANL officials last year claimed that it could take as long as 1,000 years for contaminants to reach the Rio Grande. However, the finding suggests that it could take only decades. James Rickman, spokesperson for LANL, said that it is too early to discount LANL's modeling practices. He pointed out that the contaminants found in the spring may be naturally occurring, or may have originated at the White Rock sewage facility. Steve Yanicek, of NMED's LANL oversight bureau, countered saying that White Rock canyon discharges, such as the spring, do not typically show such elevated levels of uranium and nitrate, despite local contamination from the sewage facility.

Joni Arends, of CCNS, said, "This is a clear example of the significance of citizen monitoring in and around Department of Energy facilities. We are happy to have been involved with this important discovery. However, we are disappointed to find that the spring is contaminated. We urge LANL and NMED to discover the source of the contamination."

* The National Research Council (or NRC) recently reviewed a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Cancer Institute detailing the risk of cancer to U.S. citizens exposed to radioactive fallout from nuclear weapons testing prior to 1962. Due to time and money constraints, NRC found that the federal public health agencies could not address each individual's risk, but could for the general population. Nevertheless, the report will be helpful for those seeking compensation for cancer or other conditions developed because of radioactive fallout.

Activists believe that the results should primarily be used to identify and inform citizens in the most affected areas so that any potential health effects can be treated as early as possible.

To read the full report, please visit

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