IFRAT Discusses Results from Cerro Grande Fire Risk Assessment

* The Interagency Flood Risk Assessment Team (or IFRAT) held a public meeting in Espanola this week to discuss the results of their assessment of flood and contamination risks related to the aftermath of the Cerro Grande fire. The IFRAT is a consortium of government agencies, including the New Mexico Departments of Environment and Health, the Department of Energy, Los Alamos National Laboratory, and the Environmental Protection Agency, among others.

The risk assessors created several scenarios for both adults and children in order to achieve their results. These scenarios included people living in a residence in Lower Los Alamos Canyon; people irrigating with water containing elevated concentrations of metals, organic chemicals and radionuclides from floods following the fire; swimming in the water; and eating fish from Cochiti Dam. When possible, the risk assessors used actual data from samples of water, ash and sediment taken before and after the fire. The findings from these samples were then entered into equations that estimate risk to adults and children exposed for 30 years or more.

The IFRAT risk assessment indicated that there is no danger to citizens exposed to ash and sediment deposited by flooding after the fire. The results showed that levels of radionuclides, metals and organic chemicals, as compared to background and pre-fire data, are not significantly elevated from samples taken post-fire. Because some contamination bioaccumulates in plants, animals, and sediments, not enough time has passed since the fire to show evidence of such bioaccumulation. Continuing sampling and analysis of the data must be conducted.

David Salazar, an Espanola resident, brought sweepings of ash from his garage that he had collected following the fire. Salazar had been waiting for an opportunity to have the sweepings analyzed and asked the IFRAT agencies if they would analyze them. He said he had the sweepings in the trunk of his car and that he would bring them in. Unfortunately, none of the agencies responded positively. CCNS suggested to Mr. Salazar that perhaps the Risk Assessment Corporation, which is conducting an independent risk assessment of the air and water impacts from the fire, would be interested in analyzing the samples.

The IFRAT also presented findings that indicated that sediment laden with Cerro Grande ash should not be used for farming, or as a fertilizer for gardening, because of high risk of ingestion of elevated levels of strontium-90, manganese and arsenic that bioaccumulates in plants grown in that soil. Assistant New Mexico Attorney General Lindsay Lovejoy asked if the IFRAT has any intention of advising the public that this ash-laden sediment would be unsafe to use. Ron Voorhees, of the Health Department, said that he would have to inspect the data before deciding whether the public should be warned. The Environment Department said they would review the data as well and consult with the Health Department.

The IFRAT intends to continue sampling and assessing data, as long as there is public interest in the issue. As Linda Fair, of Amigos Bravos, said, "I don't think we should take this light turnout as any indication that people aren't concerned about this."

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