Dr. Barcelona Testifies that the Public Deserves to be Better Protected than by the Existing LANL Groundwater Monitoring Network

April 16, 2010

In public hearings currently under way about the New Mexico Environment Department ten-year hazardous waste permit for Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), Dr. Michael Barcelona testified Wednesday to the inadequacies of the groundwater monitoring system for contamination already known to be located beneath the dumps at Technical Area 54. He stated, "Given the multiplicity of historic waste disposal sites and waste streams, it is astounding that the monitoring approach does not comply with the legal requirements of [the hazardous waste laws and regulations] and is not in accord with associated established precedent." He is one of the expert witnesses called by Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety (CCNS).

Dr. Barcelona is a Professor of Chemistry at Western Michigan University. He has received many international awards for his expertise in groundwater contamination issues. In 2008, he received the Fulbright Senior Lecturer Award. He has been a Senior Advisor to the Environmental Protection Agency for more than 20 years. www.wmich.edu/chemistry/fac-balcelona.htm

Under the New Mexico hazardous waste laws and regulations, the LANL monitoring well network is required to produce reliable samples of groundwater, often 900 feet below the surface. It is required to detect and measure contaminants and provide information about how rapidly the water moves through the various geologic formations. To provide reliable data, the monitoring location in the well must not be contaminated with organic additives or bentonite clay that was used to drill the well. In addition, the well must be located in the fast pathways of water movement in order to detect contamination early.

Dr. Barcelona testified that the sampling data showed that many of the well screens are obstructed by bentonite clay muds and organic fluids used in drilling the wells. Bentonite locks up certain contaminants, removing them from the water samples and impairing the validity of the data. For example, many LANL radionuclides including plutonium can attach to clay particles and become undetectable.

Bentonite clay in the wells also affects the measurement of the rate of groundwater flow. In some cases, this produces flow readings that are very low and in error by a factor of twenty-five.

Dr. Barcelona testified that there is also great uncertainty in the water levels measured in many of the monitoring wells. Accurate water levels are necessary to determine the direction of groundwater flow and the speed of the flow.

Dr. Barcelona concluded by saying, "I'd abandon every one of the wells that extends into the regional aquifer." He proposed removing the equipment and plugging the resulting holes with cement.

This is a formal administrative hearing, with opportunities for public comment. The hearing will continue at 9 am on Friday, April 23 at UNM Los Alamos, and on Monday, April 26, at CNM Main Campus in Albuquerque.

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