CCNS Embarks on Second Rio Grande Sampling Trip

Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety (or CCNS) embarked this week on a second trip along the Rio Grande, from Buckman to Cochiti Dam, to sample for contamination from Los Alamos National Laboratory (or LANL) in plants and springs along the river.

Previous LANL estimates indicated that it would take thousands of years for LANL contamination to reach the Rio Grande. However, radioactive and hazardous contaminants, including tritium and perchlorate, have been found in Los Alamos County drinking water wells, surface water, and in groundwater monitoring wells, indicating that it could take as few as 60 years for contaminants to reach the Rio Grande. These findings of fast-moving contaminants compelled CCNS to undertake the Rio Grande Watershed Initiative in order to establish citizen monitoring in order to protect Rio Grande and its fragile ecology.

The trip is the second CCNS has taken along the river as part of the Initiative. Last October, CCNS, its team of experts, and representatives from the New Mexico Environment Department (or NMED) floated the river. Due to the shallow depth of the river, the team found three previously undiscovered springs on the west side of the river, including one spring that contained elevated levels of gross alpha, uranium, tritium, and nitrate. That spring is now commonly known as the "CCNS Spring." Although the contaminant levels did not exceed New Mexico Water Quality Control Commission or Environmental Protection Agency standards, the levels of nitrate were greater than 50% of state and federal standards and gross alpha and uranium levels were greater than 90% of the standards.

CCNS is concerned that the contamination may be due to the more than 18 million cubic feet of buried waste at LANL. LANL contends that the contamination does not indicate a pathway from their waste sites to the Rio Grande, but rather that White Rock sewage treatment facility discharges are migrating to the river. Chemical and isotopic analyses of CCNS Spring water are currently underway to determine the source.

The discovery attracted the attention of local river-based environmental groups and state and federal agencies. Representatives of Amigos Bravos and Rio Grande Restoration are accompanying CCNS on the second trip, as well representatives from the US Geological Survey, NMED, and LANL. Joni Arends, of CCNS, said, "The cooperation between citizens and government agencies is necessary for the protection of the river and those living downstream."

Arends also pointed out that, regardless of the source of the contaminants, cleanup of buried waste at other Department of Energy weapons facilities has reduced the levels of contamination in groundwater by as much as 95%. She said, "There are 10 million people living downstream from LANL. Water compacts with neighboring states and countries, as well as possible diversion projects in Santa Fe and Albuquerque, require that we guarantee not only the quantity of water in the Rio Grande, but also the quality. If we can prevent contamination of the river by removing the buried waste at LANL, then it is imperative that LANL do so immediately."

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