* The Los Alamos Historical Document Retrieval and Assessment Project of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently received additional support that may allow it to continue to proceed without interruption. The project is threatened by budget cuts by the headquarters of the Department of Energy (DOE) in Washington, D.C., which is responsible for funding the project.
CDC is charged with collecting and reviewing thousands of documents outlining releases of radioactive and hazardous materials from Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) over its 60-year history. The project is the first of three phases that may culminate in a dose reconstruction for LANL emissions. A dose reconstruction estimates the amount of radioactivity and hazardous materials to which those living near LANL may have been exposed due to LANL activities. Although LANL is the oldest DOE nuclear weapons facility, it is among the last to undergo such a project.
The DOE's Los Alamos Site Office recently allocated $1.2 million from LANL's nuclear weapons budget to support LANL's participation in the CDC project in Fiscal Year 2004. DOE headquarters has not yet indicated that it will continue to provide the CDC funding.
The project has been plagued with problems since its beginning in 1999. Primarily, CDC has had difficultly accessing documents following several security breaches at LANL, including the Wen Ho Lee scandal and missing hard drives, and consequent increased security. CDC is required to have escorts at all times and has been denied access to documents that LANL considers sensitive. The method by which CDC can appeal these denials has failed. CDC and LANL are currently negotiating methods to facilitate document declassification, access and subsequent release to the public.
The project has garnered the support of the University Professional and Technical Employees, Citizens for LANL Employee Rights and El Rio Arriba Environmental Health Association. In a joint letter to New Mexico's Congressional delegation, these groups and others said, "Continuing this study is a win-win opportunity for [LANL] and its neighbors. It will demonstrate that [LANL and DOE] will act to assure communities around nuclear facilities that health and human welfare are priorities of government and its agencies."
Representative Tom Udall strongly urged the CDC to continue the project, saying, "The communities surrounding LANL deserve the same access to the historical record of off-site emissions, leaks and intentional releases of radionuclides and toxic chemicals as is afforded communities at other DOE sites. These records would provide important data for regional public health decisions." Community groups are encouraging Senator Jeff Bingaman to secure additional funding for Fiscal Year 2005.
New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) Secretary Ron Curry has also issued his support of the project. Jon Goldstein, of NMED, said that support of the CDC╣s work at LANL is "a no-brainer."
There will be a public meeting at which CDC will discuss the continuation of the project and release its draft interim findings. The meeting will be held on Tuesday, March 30 from 5 to 7 p.m. at the Cities of Gold Hotel in Pojoaque.