EPA Overview Report Withheld from Citizen Action New Mexico

April 23, 2010

In another twist of the on-going effort to keep government documents out of the hands of the Albuquerque-based non-governmental organization Citizen Action New Mexico, staff at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Region 6 office recently marked a 2007 Overview Report "confidential" in order to prevent its release under the Freedom of Information Act. The Overview Report addressed concerns raised by Citizen Action about the adequacy of the groundwater-monitoring network surrounding the Mixed Waste Landfill at Sandia National Laboratories to detect contamination of the groundwater beneath the dump.

The Mixed Waste Landfill is located in the southwest portion of Sandia National Laboratory, about one mile east of the Mesa del Sol complex. Buried in unlined pits and trenches, the landfill contains over 700,000 cubic feet of radioactive, toxic and hazardous waste, which is sitting above Albuquerque's drinking water supplies. Citizen Action pursued the complaint because of flaws in the groundwater-monitoring network that prevent detection of contamination. www.radfreenm.org/index.htm Accurate groundwater information is necessary to determine whether to excavate the waste or leave the waste in place. Nevertheless, last summer, the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED), with designated authority from EPA, approved placing a dirt cover over the Landfill.

Citizen Action filed a complaint with the EPA Office of Inspector General in March 2007 alleging that the NMED had mismanaged the monitoring network. The EPA Region 6 office in Dallas, Texas oversees the state Environment Department. As a result, the Inspector General conducted an investigation into the Region 6 oversight activities. www.epa.gov/oig/reports/2010/20100414-10-P-0100.pdf

The EPA Inspector General found that staff in Region 6 had violated the EPA policies for public involvement, records management, national security, and the internal controls of management for effective and efficient operations. It found the Region 6 "(1) took inappropriate steps to keep the details of the [Mixed Waste Landfill] monitoring wells [Overview Report] from the public; (2) decided not to provide documentation or sometimes not to document their concerns about the [Mixed Waste Landfill] monitoring wells; (3) provided a letter to [Citizen Action] that did not note the specific details of the [Overview Report]; or (4) improperly placed a national security marking (Confidential) on the [Overview Report]." Both Region 6 and the NMED disagree with the findings. Region 6 has 90 days to respond.

Dave McCoy, Executive Director of Citizen Action, has determined that over one-half million dollars has been spent to keep reports secret from Citizen Action. McCoy said, "Incorrect data from defective monitoring wells was used by NMED to make the decision to leave long-lived radioactive and hazardous wastes at the Sandia Mixed Water Landfill under a direct cover. Rather than admit any mistake or reopen the decision for reconsideration, the NMED and EPA Region 6 prefer to stonewall and put Albuquerque's drinking water at risk."

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