LANL Waste Dumped at County Landfill
Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) dumped 20 tons of low-level radioactive and potentially hazardous debris at the Los Alamos County municipal landfill in November 2005. Preliminary testing had found the waste contained lead, dioxins, PCBs, and low-level radiation.
The waste came from a site located near the Los Alamos airport know as the Incinerator Ash Pile. The waste was generated by a LANL incinerator, where they burned document and refuse between 1945 and 1970. The pile consisted of ash and any metal debris which could not be burnt. The pile had been left exposed on the side of a mesa. The debris collected at the bottom of the mesa near the drainage channels that rain water had formed while running off the pile.
Storm water run off from the Incinerator Ash Pile flows into Los Alamos Canyon. Los Alamos Canyon system consistently generates storm water flows that reach the Rio Grande, thus carrying contaminants toward the future drinking water supplies for Santa Fe and Albuquerque.
According to the agreed upon clean up plan between LANL and the New Mexico Environment Department, the ash and any associated debris were to be taken to Envirocare, a waste facility in Utah licensed for radioactive and hazardous waste disposal. LANL took the waste to the Los Alamos County Municipal landfill because of confusion over the wording of the clean up plan. LANL had originally proposed that the debris be dusted off and taken to the Landfill. However, NMED repeatedly refused these proposals, stating in two deficiency notices that there was no sure way to test the debris.
NMED currently plans to allow the debris to remain at the landfill because recent testing has found that the waste will not be hazardous to human health. They have said that it is not feasible for the waste to be sorted out of the landfill at this point. This was the case in December, 2005 when the violation was first reported, and recovery would be even more difficult now nine months after the dumping.
NMED Secretary Ron Curry said, "my hope is that the new lab managers institute systems that ensure clean up sticks to the approved work plans." NMED plans to fine LANL for this violation, however the amount has yet to be determined.
The ash pile remains on site. The current clean up plan requires that the ash be taken to Envirocare. However, the results of further testing may change its destination. Initial tests found the ash to be both hazardous and radio active. Subsequent LANL tests found the presence of the hazardous contaminants to be below state regulatory standards. If further tests find that the ash is only radioactive, then the state does not have jurisdiction over its disposal.
Activists are concerned about the lack of LANL accountability. Joni Arends, of CCNS said, "NMED must step up to the plate and hold LANL accountable to the fullest extent of the law. This violation is the most recent in a long chain of violations. NMED has the opportunity to change this pattern with the new managers. We cannot afford for bad habits to be carried over."