Independent Expert Team to Review Case History of Defective Groundwater Monitoring at Sandia LaboratoriesŐ Mixed Waste Landfill Dump

July 29, 2011

An independent team of national experts, known as The Consortium for Risk Evaluation with Stakeholder Participation (CRESP), will review the 2011 case history by Independent Registered Geologist Robert Gilkeson and Dave McCoy, Director of Citizen Action New Mexico, entitled, "Defective Groundwater Protection Practices at the Sandia National Laboratories' Mixed Waste Landfill - The Sandia MWL Dump."

Gilkeson initiated the review through a series of meetings with Dr. Ines Triay and her staff at the Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Environmental Management. DOE accepted two of the reviewers requested by Gilkeson and the request for the review to include two public meetings in Albuquerque. As a result, an initial meeting will be held in late summer or early fall for the public, Sandia, state and federal regulators, and the authors, to state concerns about the dump. A final public meeting will also be held.

Sandia National Laboratories operated the nuclear weapons era waste dump from 1959 to 1988. It is estimated to contain 1.5 million cubic feet of radioactive and hazardous wastes disposed in unlined pits and trenches above Albuquerque's drinking water aquifer. Unlike modern municipal landfills, no engineered system is in place for detection and collection of toxic liquids moving beneath the dump.

The 300-page Gilkeson and McCoy report presents evidence that DOE, Sandia Labs, the New Mexico Environment Department and the federal Environmental Protection Agency knew from the early 1990s that the groundwater monitoring network at the Mixed Waste Landfill was defective. The Gilkeson and McCoy report contends that nickel, chromium, cadmium, nitrates and possibly solvents from the dump are already entering Albuquerque's aquifer.

Their report alleges that the congressionally appointed WERC investigators, the public and an administrative hearing officer were not informed by the federal and state regulatory agencies, nor Sandia, of the known monitoring network defects at public hearings held in December 2004. The purpose of the hearing was to decide whether the waste would be removed or left in place.

Agency records show the monitoring wells were placed in the wrong location, had corroded well screens, were drilled with Bentonite clay and improperly sampled. These factors hide knowledge of contamination. Because of the defects, the monitoring wells could not provide reliable data about contamination migrating beneath the dump. Nevertheless, the unreliable data was later used for the decision to leave the dump wastes above Albuquerque's aquifer under a dirt cover.

Although CRESP will not review the agency decision making, CRESP will make "an independent review of technical concerns regarding the monitoring well system and resulting groundwater monitoring information."

The full Gilkeson and McCoy report may be viewed at Citizen Action's website under "Groundwater" at

Back to News Index