>Historical LANL Emissions Higher than Previously Reported

Historical LANL Emissions Higher than Previously Reported

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently uncovered documentation that airborne releases from Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) following the Manhattan Project may have been an order of magnitude greater than is officially reported. They uncovered a 1956 memo by LANL industrial hygienist Edwin Hyatt, which reports that between 1948 and 1955, LANL released 43 curies of plutonium from several of its facilities. A curie is a measure of radiation.

To compare LANL to other DOE sites, C.M. Wood, of the Centers for Disease Control, stated that 14 curies of plutonium were released from Rocky Flats during its almost 40 years of operations.

The investigators believe that with further calculations the estimate for total releases over those eight years may rise to 47 curies. This figure correlates closely with estimates based on soil sampling that the team had conducted earlier in Los Alamos County. In 2005, LANL questioned their independent soil sample analysis. However, at a technical exchange meeting this week, LANL did not challenge the 43 curie release.

Of all the DOE sites around the country, the 43 curies from LANL would be the largest total airborne release of plutonium. In addition, there is no valid data for releases of other contaminants such as, tritium, beryllium and high explosives. At Los Alamos, some people lived within blocks of the old plutonium processing plant, which was located across the street from Ashley Pond. The health affects are most likely aggravated by the proximity of the local residents.

In its first Environmental Impact Statement in 1973, LANL estimated a release of 1.2 curies. Tom Widner, project director for ChemRisk, the contractor to CDC, asked LANL to explain why the data reported by Hyatt has not been reflected in the official compilation of releases. LANL spokesman, James Rickman, responded with a prepared statement, and said that he was unable to answer that question, noting that the historical releases happened under prior management.

Through the Los Alamos Historical Document Retrieval and Assessment Project, CDC and ChemRisk, have reviewed thousands of classified and unclassified documents at LANL regarding historical releases of radionuclides and hazardous chemicals. Their study included reviewing autopsy and human tissue analysis of Los Alamos County residents during that time in order to evaluate potential public exposure.

The project began in 1999 and was intended to be the first step towards determining whether to complete a dose reconstruction for LANL. A dose reconstruction estimates the amount of radionuclides and hazardous chemicals to which a resident of the area may have been exposed due to LANL operations.

In the next two years, Chemrisk will be wrapping up the project. CDC announced that it had reached its spending limit under its current contract with DOE, and is going to determine whether to perform a dose reconstruction.

Citizen groups and former LANL workers emphasized at a recent CDC meeting that the dramatic increase in plutonium releases during the eight-year period raises questions about the validity of LANL reporting in general. They are urging the CDC to conduct a fuller analysis of the impacts to human health.

Back to News Index