NMED Hearing on LANL Hazardous Waste Permit Begins April 5

February 26, 2010

For the first time in over 20 years, the New Mexico Environment Department hazardous waste permit for Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) is coming up for hearing. A two-week public hearing will begin on Monday, April 5, and continue until Friday, April 16, at the Santa Fe Community College Jemez Rooms. Additional public hearings will be scheduled for Pojoaque, Espanola and Los Alamos during this time. www.nmenv.state.nm.us/hwb/documents/Int_Cit-Pub_Not_2-2-2010_English.pdf

The ten-year permit covers operations at 24 individual sites that handle and store hazardous waste at Technical Areas 3, 50, 54 and 55. Key issues include LANL posting financial documents to assure that funding will be available for them to clean up their mess, groundwater protection, and support for the Department in their denial of LANL's application for open-air burning of hazardous waste.

The first draft of the permit was released for public comment in August 2007 and it and subsequent drafts allowed the open-air burning at two sites at Technical Area 16. Discarded and off-specification high explosives and waste contaminated with high explosives are burned there.

During the extensive 40 days of negotiations between LANL, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and the Department, CCNS and the Embudo Valley Environmental Monitoring Group argued that there are alternatives to open-air burning of hazardous waste. For example, there is specially designed equipment, called confined burn facilities, which capture and contain the emissions. www.trainex.org/web_courses/subpart_x/EPA%20CD%20Content/SubpartXUnits.htm

After discovering that plastics were also burned with the hazardous waste, the NGOs insisted that sampling of the soils be done at the burn facilities. Burning plastics creates dioxins and furans, which are toxic polychlorinated chemicals. Exposure to these can change hormone and immune systems, alter fetal development and reduce reproductive capacity.

The Department required LANL to sample the area and dioxins and furans were found in the soils. The levels of furans exceeded the screening limits and indicated a potential adverse ecological risk. An initial analysis found that there was a low to moderate risk to non-protected species, including earthworms, deer mice, and Montane shrews. LANL was required to submit a more detailed analysis to the Department, which they did not do. In view of this omission, the Department wrote, "the assessment is considered incomplete, resulting in uncertainty." www.nmenv.state.nm.us/hwb/lanlperm.html see TA-16 Open Burn Sampling and Screening Assessment submittals

In response, Denny Hjeresen, the LANL Environmental Protection Division Leader, said, "LANL respectfully disagrees with the decision to remove open burning from the draft hazardous waste renewal permit. Vital national security work would be sacrificed with no appreciable benefits to human health or the environment."

In their denial of LANL's application, the Department cited the nearly 1,400 public comments it had received opposing open burning. www.nmenv.state.nm.us/hwb/documents/NOID_TA-16_OB_FactSheet_2-2-2010.pdf

For more information about the upcoming hearing, visit the Department's webpage. www.nmenv.state.nm.us/hwb/lanlperm.html Also visit the CCNS website and sign up to receive Action Alerts. www.nuclearactive.org

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