NMED Approves Triassic Park Hazardous Waste Facility

New Mexico Water Quality Control Commission to Decide on Human-Health Standards for Los Alamos Waterways

* The New Mexico Environment Department (or NMED) issued a permit for the proposed Triassic Park commercial hazardous waste facility, which will be the first of its kind in New Mexico. The facility would be located 43 miles east of Roswell and would be authorized to accept ignitable, corrosive, reactive and toxic wastes, including mercury, lead, benzene, and PCBs. The permit does not include radioactive or medical wastes.

Environment Secretary Pete Maggiore included several provisions to the 10-year permit. For example, Gandy-Marley, Inc., (or GMI), the private company requesting the dump, must monitor all vadose zone activity during siting, operation and after closure, in order to detect any release of waste into the groundwater. GMI must also prepare plans for a closure cap and submit them to NMED for approval prior to construction. Maggiore also determined that, although the dump would be allowed to accept waste from surrounding states and Mexico, the foreign waste must be appropriately classified before acceptance.

The permit is issued despite public opposition to the site, including that of CCNS, but particularly by Conservative Use of Resources and Environment (or CURE) and Citizens for Alternatives to Radioactive Dumping (or CARD). The two organizations participated in a public hearing opposing the dump last October. Among their complaints was the increased traffic through the small surrounding communities of Tatum and Hagerman, which would include trucks hauling potentially deadly waste. Also, CURE and CARD were concerned about the lesser prairie chicken, a threatened species whose primary breeding ground is on the Triassic Park site. Maggiore addressed neither issue in his permit, but did include steps to improve NMED's public participation process.

Construction for the site could begin in nine to 12 months and the site may be operational by 2004. Ken Schultz, spokesperson for GMI, estimated that construction could cost as much as $33 million.

CURE and CARD representatives have said that they are disappointed in NMED's decision to permit Triassic Park, but that they have not yet decided what action to take.

* NMED's Surface Water Quality Bureau testified before the New Mexico Water Quality Control Commission this week, arguing that PCBs and dioxins, both carcinogenic chemical compounds, were found at dangerously high levels in the canyons surrounding Los Alamos National Laboratory (or LANL). Steven Pierce, of the NMED, testified that fish taken from Cochiti Reservoir, downstream from LANL, showed higher levels of both contaminants than from upstream Abiquiu Reservoir.

LANL disagrees with the assessment, saying that it is unnecessary to apply stringent regulations to waterways that only carry water during storm events. Although the bioaccumulation has been proven in the reservoirs, LANL officials claim that because the stream courses only carry water occasionally, they therefore cannot carry fish.

NMED is requesting that the Commission impose new regulations that would set specific limits on the pollutants that currently or could appear in New Mexico's waterways. The regulations could also tighten existing limits on other pollutants. Following the testimony, the Commission voted to postpone the decision to change the regulations until April 4th.

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