Cerro Grande Fire Still Burning Underground on LANL Property

*The Cerro Grande Fire at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) has never been completely suppressed at one of the Material Disposal Areas (or MDA) which is near Technical Area 16 (or TA-16). MDA R is an old dump-site used during and after World War II. TA-16 is located in the southwestern corner of LANL property near Bandelier National Monument and the Santa Fe National Forest.

According to Steve Yanicak, a scientist with the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) DOE Oversight Bureau, there is no record of what was buried there. Yanicak believes MDA R is most likely filled with old tree stumps and old WWII buildings that were knocked down and burned. What didn't burn, was dumped at the MDA R site. Some state environment officials and activists say it probably also has high explosives, depleted uranium, barium, beryllium and heavy metals from the early days of the Manhattan project. One of Yanicak's concerns is that the MDA R dump is on the edge of a mesa. With this ongoing fire, the dump site is likely to collapse, increasing the already high erosion potential of the site to directly impact the Cañon de Vallé, which flows into Water Canyon, which eventually washes into the Rio Grande.

According to Lee McAtee, the lab's deputy director for Environment, Safety and Health, it is not known how deep the fire is burning. McAtee says there is no apparent threat to the public, although the fire does threaten lab workers in the area.

Greg Lewis, director for the state Environment Department's Groundwater Bureau said that because of explosives and possible radioactivity, workers have to stay a safe distance from the dump, so work is being done remotely by robot. Lab and state environment officials are not sure if they can douse the dump area with water for fear that contaminants could leach into the groundwater of the canyon.

Last Friday, June 2nd, the workers at S-Site, which is on the west side of TA-16, and also the place which was the most heavily damaged by fire, were evacuated for fear of mudslides. S-Site has many high-explosive burning sites.

As of June 8th, both the New Mexico DOE Oversight Bureau and the federal Environmental Protection Agency (or EPA) were denied access to LANL tech areas..

The waste dump that is burning is located near the 260 Building, a high-explosives facility where for over 50 years scientists dumped untreated wastewater tainted with high explosives into the canyon below. According to the NMED's Greg Lewis, the rivulet that goes from the 260 Building past the waste dump into the canyon reportedly contains 30 percent explosives in the dirt. Presently no one knows or will say whether the area exploded in Los Alamos fire. The EPA considers high explosives, which have contaminated parts of TA-16 and the burning dump to be a possible carcinogen.

Yanicak is concerned about the firing sites in S-Site that have depleted uranium debris, including fine grained depleted uranium in the soil, that could have been released into the air. According to Yanicak, LANL's Technical Area building evacuations from last week are due to health and safety concerns regarding the potential of heavy mudflows during storm events. Most likely, roads, such as State Road 501, and tech areas close to the foothills, could be affected by potential mudflows. In all likelihood, when the monsoons hit this summer, citizens could see some significant mud and debris flows coming down into the Los Alamos townsite and Laboratory areas from the fire-impacted canyons.

Last Friday, June 2 when it rained, mudflows moved down Los Alamos Canyon and Pueblo Canyon. The Oversight Bureau took samples of the gooey black mud and expects results in about a month. In Los Alamos Canyon the blackened mud from the up-canyon burn areas flowed all the way to the Rio Grande.

Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety (CCNS) is asking for immediate access for the State Environment Department and the EPA to all the Technical Area sites at LANL. CCNS is also demanding an Independent Citizens Monitoring Panel of Experts to oversee health and the environmental issues that will continue to affect Northern New Mexico.



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