NMED Orders Replacement Wells at Sandia
Albuquerque area drinking water supplies are at risk due to the presence of a Cold War radioactive and hazardous waste dump known as the Mixed Waste Landfill located at Sandia National Laboratories. The Landfill contains an estimated 700,000 cubic feet, or 8 Olympic sized swimming pools, of waste, disposed of in unlined pits and trenches. The dump is located above Albuquerque's aquifer, where the Mesa del Sol residential development plans to drill a series of wells to supply drinking water for 80,000 future residents.
Ground water monitoring at the Landfill has been found deficient by the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED). It has ordered two replacement monitoring wells. The monitoring wells were to be the front line of defense against this drinking water contamination. However, NMED found that two of the wells were "suffering from corrosion to such a degree that the wells can no longer produce water samples that are representative of aquifer conditions." In addition, the water level in the background well was too low to be properly sampled and was not in an appropriate location.
Robert H. Gilkeson, registered geologist, has found that these wells are only the beginning of the problem. The wells installed at the Mixed Waste Landfill are constructed in a way that prevents detection of contaminants that may have already reached the ground water. In addition, Sandia's sampling procedures are deficient. Gilkeson concluded that Sandia's proposed monitoring program for the landfill would not guarantee protection of the ground water at the present time or over the long-term.
Gilkeson cited similar problems with the network of monitoring wells installed at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL). Recent reports by the Department of Energy Inspector General, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the National Academies of Science (NAS) support Gilkeson's concerns for the monitoring wells at LANL. The NAS concluded that "most or all of monitoring wells at LANL" are not reliable for detection of contaminants.
Long-term plans for the dump are still in contention. NMED has issued a permit to Sandia to cover the dump with 3 feet of dirt. Activists urge removal of the waste, citing Sandia’s predictions that a cancer-causing solvent, known as PCE, will seep into Albuquerque's drinking water by the year 2010.
Paul Robinson, Research Director for the Southwest Research and Information Center asked the NMED to defer placing the dirt cover on the dump until Sandia installs new monitoring wells, institutes a more comprehensive sampling program for the entire range of contaminants released at the dump, and replaces old sampling data with new data to verify predictions that PCE will reach the ground water when Sandia says it will.
Dave McCoy, Director of Citizen Action New Mexico, an Albuquerque based NGO, stated, "We are encouraged to see the Environment Department move toward well monitoring replacement at the Mixed Waste dump. We are also asking for inclusion of the public in the long-term well monitoring planning. We are asking that these dangerous wastes be ordered excavated as the only way to protect Albuquerque's drinking water supplies for public health."