CCNS and the New Mexico Department of Health Release Results of Emergency Responder Surveys

Cleanup Plan for Acid Canyon Discussed

* On Monday, May 21st, CCNS and the New Mexico Department of Health released the results of their 1999 survey of emergency responders along the north-south route for the trucks carrying nuclear waste to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, located near Carlsbad, New Mexico. The results revealed that of the 236 emergency responders who returned the surveys, 75% of them are volunteers. Of those, 72% felt they were not trained to handle a radioactively contaminated patient, yet, 61% said they would respond to a radioactive materials accident. Only 25% felt they have adequate equipment to respond to hazardous and radioactive accidents.

Bill Mackie, Coordinator of the New Mexico Radioactive Waste Consultation Task Force, said, "We hope the results of the survey will provide a stimulus for emergency responder volunteers to attend the various on-going, free trainings provided by the State of New Mexico."

CCNS and the Health Department will conduct a similar survey later this summer or early fall.

Survey results (PDF file).

* The Los Alamos National Laboratory Environmental Restoration Project recently discussed its plan to clean up the South Fork of Acid Canyon at a public meeting in Los Alamos. Because New Mexico does not have a regulatory cleanup standard for plutonium contamination in soil, CCNS questioned the Department of Energy (or DOE) for its use of its own guidance document to drive the cleanup, rather than an Environmental Protection Agency (or EPA) risk-based cleanup standard used at other DOE sites.

Only the plutonium in the soil drives the DOE cleanup analysis, even though there are other radionuclide and chemical contaminants found in the canyon. The DOE guidance is called ALARA, which means As Low As Reasonably Achievable. The ALARA process requires a cost benefit analysis, which includes the assignment of a dollar amount for the dose reduction per rem of radiation. In this case, the amount is $2,000 per rem. The DOE's ALARA analysis allows more plutonium to remain in the soil after the cleanup.

In contrast, the EPA currently recommends a risk-based rather than a dose- based assessment. EPA recommends that both the radionuclide and chemical contaminants be added together to provide estimates for persons exposed to both types. EPA's offers a risk-based range so that a person has a 1 in 10,000 to a 1 in a 1,000,000 chance of contracting cancer as a result of the exposure. Stakeholders then decide where within that range the cleanup level should be set. The EPA guidance is more protective of human health and the environment.

The New Mexico Environment Department announced at the meeting that it would be conducting its own cleanup risk assessment, which will include both the chemical and radionuclide contaminants.

Concerned about proposed budget cuts that may go into effect on October 1, 2001, DOE announced that it might begin the cleanup work in September, before the end of this fiscal year. DOE's plan involves loosening the contaminated soil and then using a high-powered vacuum to remove the soil from the ground. The soil will be vacuumed into drums that will be stored at the Lab's dump at Technical Area 54.

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