Community Groups Question LANL's Denial of Detections of Radionuclides in Drinking Water Wells

Community Groups Question LANL's Denial of Detections of Radionuclides in Drinking Water Wells

Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety (CCNS) sent a letter to Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) demanding that detections of radionuclides and other contaminants in Los Alamos County and Santa Fe drinking water supplies be addressed.

Detections of radionuclides in Los Alamos County and the City of Santa Fe drinking water wells were included in two Department of Energy documents evaluating the environmental impacts of operations at LANL. The data for these documents was taken from LANL's water quality database. Detected radionuclides include americium-241, cobalt-60, cesium-137, plutonium-238, 239 and -240, strontium-90 and tritium.

In a past letter to CCNS, former LANL Environmental Programs Associate Director Andrew Phelps asserted that contaminants are either not present or are present at lower levels than the detections reported in the LANL water quality database.

In his letter Phelps did acknowledge one detection of elevated levels of tritium in the former Los Alamos County drinking water well Otowi 1. Otowi 1 was closed by Los Alamos county due to perceived perchlorate contamination in 2000. Despite detects of contamination used as data in DOE documents and Phelps own acknowledgement of the presence of tritium, LANL Water Stewardship Program Director, Tina Behr-Andres, told the Albuquerque Journal that there is absolutely no indication that drinking water is unsafe or threatened.

Behr-Andres was referring to the recent reply letter that CCNS sent to Phelps', which questions the reliability of the data used to dismiss their concerns. Phelps did not provided justification for the discrepancy between the different sets of LANL's own data nor did he provide the source of his conflicting data. The CCNS letter states that LANL persists in using methods that are not credible for detection, such as drilling characterization wells with fluids and muds that mask the presence of radionuclides, rather than conducting a full investigation of the contaminant plumes.

The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act requires a system of reliable monitoring wells at the source, which would detect the migration of contamination before it has traveled to the drinking water wells. LANL states that 50 percent of their current characterization wells produce representative results. However, both the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the DOE Inspector General have written reports that contradict LANL's claim.

The CCNS reply letter states that the detections are an indication that contaminant plumes have begun to reach the drinking water supplies and LANL computer modeling predicts the same movement. In order to protect drinking water supplies, CCNS recommends monthly samples of all drinking water wells using the most sensitive methods for detection, the installation of new characterization and monitoring wells and an independent review of all LANL water data.

Independent steps have been taken by CCNS, EPA, Los Alamos County and the city of Santa Fe to secure additional sampling of drinking water. The results are expected soon.

Joni Arends, of CCNS, said "It's been years, and still LANL has little or no information about the plumes of radionuclide and chemical contaminants which are in and approaching our drinking water. We need accurate knowledge in order to resolve the questions. And we need a solution now."

For the CCNS responce letter and more information click here (

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