* The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced this week that it will extend the Los Alamos Historical Document Retrieval and Assessment Project for five more years. Although it is only half completed, CDC considered drawing the project to a close last summer.
The project is the first phase of what may become a dose reconstruction project for Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL). A dose reconstruction estimates the amount of radionuclides and hazardous chemicals to which a community member may have been exposed due to LANL operations.
The project is gathering information about historical LANL emissions of radionuclides and chemicals. It began in 1999 and was originally expected to take four years to complete. However, due to delays in security, such as the Cerro Grande fire and the Wen Ho Lee debacle, and the large number of documents to be reviewed, it is estimated to take as many as 10 years.
Thus far, the project has yielded much information about routine and accidental emissions from LANL during its operating history. The report estimates that airborne plutonium emissions may have been hundreds of times higher than officially reported. It also introduces a method that uses autopsy information to estimate exposure according to the area of the Los Alamos townsite in which people lived.
The project was threatened because CDC's contract had concluded and it was unclear whether that contract would be continued. Further, CDC has faced obstacles when reviewing documents due to security concerns at LANL. CDC announced this week that the contract would be extended and that LANL, which allocated $1.2 million to dedicate staff to the project, would be able to cooperate more effectively with CDC and its contractors.
As a result, CDC has released a request for proposal for contractors to perform the document retrieval. The project has been managed by ENSR International and Shonka Research Associates, which have performed similar projects across the DOE complex. Although these companies may retain the contract, CDC is required to open the contract for general bidding. Activists believe that these companies should retain the contract in order to avoid further delay by having to orient a new contractor to the complexities of LANL document retrieval.
The project received great support from Senator Jeff Bingaman, Representative Tom Udall and Governor Bill Richardson, who issued letters to DOE, CDC and the University of California, LANL's managing contractor, supporting the project and requesting that it continue.
The project was also supported by a group of national experts in environmental health and contaminant transport who released a report in August 2003 entitled New Mexico's Right to Know: The Impacts of LANL Operations on Public Health and the Environment. The report, which was produced as part of the environmental health program of Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety, recommended, "...The ... project must continue in order that we may understand the source of the harm from LANL operations so that further harm may be prevented."