Second Santa Fe community meeting held on health and environmental concerns as a result of the LANL fire

Testimony on the retaliation against whistleblowers who raise health and safety concerns

*At the second community meeting about the Cerro Grande fire, a panel of community, state and federal representatives shared their information on the repercussions of the fire that burned over 30% of Los Alamos National Laboratory (or LANL) property in early May. The meeting, held at Cloud Cliff Bakery, focused primarily on health concerns. On the panel were people from the Pueblos, a Naturopathic doctor, Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety (CCNS), Nuclear Watch of New Mexico, the New Mexico Environment Department, an organic farmer, and a LANL representative from the Environmental, Safety and Health Group. CCNS again called for a long-term health study of people that were affected by the possibly contaminated smoke to be conducted by an Independent Health Monitoring Team. CCNS is also calling for a Citizens Independent Monitoring Team to oversee clean-up of contaminated lab areas of concern, oversight of erosion control measures that will be put into place before the rains hit, independent scientific monitoring of the rushing contaminated canyon waters, as well as oversight of the rehabilitation of the land.

State and federal health authorities are making plans for voluntary urine surveys for persistent toxic metals possibly absorbed by firefighters and residents exposed to the fumes that blew for days over communities surrounding LANL. Dr. Mack Sewell, a New Mexico state epidemiologist said, "If people were heavily exposed in the plume or the aftermath, we have a better chance of catching that through these surveys." The state Environment Department expressed a need for funding to test ash and probable floodwaters for radioactive and chemical residues. LANL has come up with a preliminary count of around 627 "potential release sites," mainly old waste dumps and spills, which may release contaminants into the open if hit by flooding or high winds on LANL property. Ralph Ford-Schmidt, a state environmental scientist, said that most probably, lab pollutants will flush into the Rio Grande and coat the bottom of Cochiti Reservoir. Ford-Schmidt said, "We're probably not going to be able to stop it all. But we will be monitoring what the effects are. You can't dam up all the water and keep it on LANL. Some of it has to come off." State and federal officials are saying the gross alpha radioactivity found from the fire is consistent with a natural wildfire. Activists and the citizens in the crowd at Cloud Cliff Bakery felt that the evidence isn't being correctly looked for. The results in the investigation for the presence of lab contaminants in the smoke will begin to be released this weekend and will continue to be released over the next several weeks.


*On May 23, members of a House Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations expressed concern about the failure of the Department of Energy (or DOE) to implement its "zero tolerance" policy prohibiting contractors from retaliating against whistleblowers who raise health and safety concerns. The Subcommittee heard from employees who alleged that DOE takes sides with its contractors. Because of terms in the contracts between DOE and its contractors, DOE reimburses the contractors for their legal fees with taxpayer money.

The Whistleblower Protection Act of 1989 protects federal employees from whistleblower reprisal. In 1994 amendments to the Act protect whistleblowers from any "significant change in duties, responsibilities or working conditions" which result from going public with health and safety concerns.

Randall Walli, a pipefitter who, along with his crew, stopped work on a project at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation testified that there are personal repercussions from becoming a whistleblower. Working with valves that would not withstand the heavy pressures that were required by the intended operations, Walli and his crew stopped work because of the potential harm to other workers and possible environmental damage. Soon afterwards a tank exploded at Hanford, exposing more than a dozen workers to hazardous and toxic conditions.

House Commerce Committee chairman Thomas Bliley, a Republican from Virginia, stated that "When whistleblowers are afraid to come forward with safety concerns, the health and safety of all those within these facilities and all those who live nearby are jeopardized."

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