.News Update 02/29/08

EPA March 4th Hearing about draft LANL Storm Water Permit

February 29, 2008

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a draft permit to address the storm water that flows down the canyon systems at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) to the Rio Grande. Rains, monsoons and melting snow create the storm water that flows over the buried waste sites and carries contaminants toward the Rio Grande or to groundwater.

In early February 2006, the New Mexico Environment Department issued its first ever "do not eat" fish advisory for the Rio Grande, Cochiti and Aliquiu reservoirs because of elevated levels of PCB contamination in fish tissue. PCBs are a group of industrial chemicals that were used in electrical equipment. In 1977 the manufacturing of PCBs was banned because they were proved to bioaccumulate in the environment and cause adverse health effects. PCBs have been detected in LANL storm waters at levels more than 1,000 times over the New Mexico water quality standard that is protective of wildlife habitat in and on the river.

Unfortunately, LANL is analyzing the samples for PCBs with a method that is not as sensitive as other methods. There are analytical methods that will detect PCBs at the very low levels necessary to protect both wildlife and human health. Even so, LANL has detected PCBs at over 38,000 times over the New Mexico water quality standard that is protective of human health.

A new comprehensive study was released by Andrew Edwards, a recent graduate of the University of New Mexico Water Resources Department, about PCB contamination in the Rio Grande Basin above Cochiti Dam. This report is entitled "Detection of [PCBs] in the Rio Grande Basin above Cochiti Dam: Sources & Significance" and may be found at the UNM Repository online.

The Edwards report describes a study that collected samples upstream and downstream of Los Alamos National Laboratory in the Rio Grande. The results indicate that LANL is a contributor of PCBs to the Rio Grande, which contradicts previous research that LANL was not a major source of PCBs in fish tissue at Cochiti Reservoir.

Joni Arends of CCNS said, "We know that PCB levels on LANL property exceed the wildlife and human health standards many times over and have impacted fish in the Rio Grande. Given what we know, it is not time for the public to demand that the storm water permit be as strong as possible in order to protect our communities from further PCB contamination from LANL."

LANL's original application contained about 1,300 sites. Currently, the draft permit covers 283 buried waste sites. LANL said they would submit additional information for 128 sites that need to be covered by the permit, but have been delayed. However, LANL has yet to provide justification to EPA for removing over 850 sites from the permit. As a result, the public will be limited in their comments at the hearing because about half of the additional information is not yet available.

EPA will hold the public meeting and hearing on Tuesday, March 4 at the Best Western Hilltop House in Los Alamos, beginning at 6 pm with a public information meeting. The hearing will begin at 7 pm.

The EPA contact person is Diane Smith. She may be reached by phone at (214) 665-2145 or by email at smith.diane@epa.gov. Public comments are due to EPA by March 14, 2008.

For more information about the draft permit, go to http://www.epa.gov/region6/6wq/npdes/publicnotices/nm/nmdraft.htm.

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