In recent weeks, Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) has been conducting experiments using large quantities of high explosives that are rocking windows from downtown Santa Fe to downtown Espanola.
As we approach the eighth anniversary of the Cerro Grande fire, residents have expressed concern about the increased fire danger from the open-air experiments being conducted during the spring winds. Some days the winds have been blowing at over 25 miles per hour. In May 2000, the Cerro Grande fire burned over 7,000 acres on LANL property.
CCNS has received calls and emails from people throughout the Rio Grande corridor concerned about the loud explosions. Generally, if an explosion is heard in downtown Santa Fe, it means that over 500 pounds of high explosives were used.
The County of Los Alamos held a meeting this week about the use of prescribed burns to reduce the fire danger.
Currently there is a fire ban for all areas east of Interstate 25. Dan Ware, the Public Relations Coordinator for the New Mexico Forestry Division, said that the State of New Mexico has zero jurisdiction on federal lands, such as LANL. He explained, "even if Los Alamos County is included in the fire ban, it only covers non-municipal, non-federal and non-tribal lands."
Members of the Embudo Valley Environmental Monitoring Group, based in the downwind community of Dixon, are concerned about the re-suspension of LANL contaminants through high winds and fire. "The memory of the Cerro Grande Fire is etched deep in the psyches of people in the entire Rio Embudo watershed," said Sheri Kotowski, lead organizer for the group. "Considering this area was inundated for day after day with the plume of smoke and rain of ash and debris from the 2000 fire, people are not just concerned, they are outright angry at the very thought of open air explosions at LANL or prescribed burns in general that would place downwind communities in harm's way through the aerial dispersion of LANL contamination."
During the fall, there were public concerns about LANL's plans to conduct prescribed burns at sites used for experiments using high explosives and depleted uranium. CCNS, the Embudo Valley Environmental Monitoring Group and the New Mexico Multiple Chemical Sensitivities Task Force worked with the New Mexico Environment Department Air Quality Bureau to address the concerns. The New Mexico Smoke Management rules require LANL to notify the Air Quality Bureau before any prescribed burns are conducted.
The burns were postponed last November because of snow. At the time, James Rickman, a LANL spokesman, stated that LANL has monitored the area extensively for potential contamination. Despite numerous requests, LANL has not provided the data supporting Rickman's comments.
Nevertheless, in response to the public concerns, LANL stated, "Prior to registering these burns again, or any other prescribed burn, we will request a meeting with the Air Bureau to discuss burn specifics and concerns. Although the smoke management regulations do not require these additional steps, it seems appropriate to do so."
CCNS sought comment from LANL, but did not receive a response.
4/29/08 Update: LANL provided a website for more information about prescribed burns: "http://www.lanl.gov/emergency/fire/index.shtml"