CDC to Continue Los Alamos Historical Document Retrieval and Assessment Project

* The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced this week that they will continue the Los Alamos Historical Document Retrieval and Assessment Project. Through the project, CDC has reviewed thousands of classified and unclassified Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) documents regarding historical releases of radionuclides and hazardous chemicals.

The project was threatened because CDC's contract with the Department of Energy (DOE) had concluded and it was unclear whether that contract would be continued. Further, CDC has faced obstacles when reviewing documents due to security concerns at LANL.

However, CDC will soon be issuing a request for proposal to continue the project and LANL has recently allocated $1.2 million from its nuclear weapons budget to provide support to CDC. Phil Green, of CDC, said, "I am cautiously optimistic both on a funding level and on the level of completing the [project]."

The project is the first step towards determining whether to complete a dose reconstruction for LANL. A dose reconstruction estimates the amount of radionuclides and hazardous chemicals to which a person may have been exposed due to LANL operations. Although it is the oldest in the DOE weapons complex, LANL is one of the last to undergo such a review process.

The project began in 1999 and was expected to take three years to complete. However, the large number of documents at LANL forced CDC to extend the project by two years without additional funding. Last summer, CDC announced that it had reached its spending limit under its current contract with DOE, but would not seek additional funding unless security and access issues with LANL could be resolved. CDC said that the appeal process for accessing denied documents is now proceeding more smoothly and access issues are being negotiated with LANL.

They also mentioned that additional funding for LANL support will facilitate CDC access. Tom Widner, of ChemRisk, who is contracting with CDC on the project, said that he does not believe that LANL intentionally stalled the project through access difficulties. Widner said, "I don't think they were trying to obstruct our project; they were trying to protect their records at a time when that was necessary."

CDC released its draft interim findings recently, which indicate that more document review is necessary. The interim report prioritizes the radionuclides and hazardous chemicals of concern according to the amount that was released by LANL in the past, through both routine operations and accident events. By using autopsy information, CDC also introduces a method of evaluating potential public exposure according to the area of the Los Alamos townsite at which people lived.

New Mexico Senator Jeff Bingaman, Representative Tom Udall and Governor Bill Richardson all wrote letters of support for the project to DOE, CDC and the University of California, LANL's managing contractor. Governor Richardson, who oversaw the project as Energy Secretary, wrote to Linton Brooks, head of DOE's National Nuclear Security Administration, saying, "This project will provide vital information to people throughout northern New Mexico. It deserves your full support."

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