Independent Scientist Finds LANL Contaminants Moving Towards the Rio Grande

* An independent groundwater hydrologist has found that contaminants from waste sources at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) are moving toward the Rio Grande much more quickly than previously estimated. George Rice, who has experience analyzing contaminant transport at several Department of Energy (DOE) sites, has found that it may take as few as 26 years for LANL contaminants to reach the river.

In a recent report entitled New Mexico's Right to Know: The Potential for Groundwater Contaminants from LANL to Reach the Rio Grande, Rice analyzed sampling data prepared by LANL and the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) to determine that tritium, perchlorate and high explosives are present in springs that emanate from beneath LANL and feed the Rio Grande. Rice also reports that the radionuclides americium, cesium, plutonium and strontium are present in the wells and springs on the Pajarito Plateau.

Rice says that although the findings indicate low levels of contamination at the river, greater vigilance is necessary in order for us to protect the Rio Grande. Rice says, "So far, incidents of contaminants from LANL emerging at springs along the Rio Grande appear to have been infrequent. The springs should be closely monitored to see whether the frequency increases."

The report was produced as a part of the Rio Grande Watershed Initiative of Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety (CCNS), which was created in order to ensure greater citizen oversight of the Rio Grande in the face of LANL operations.

CCNS says that Rice's findings support the need for clean up of contamination and waste sites at LANL that is protective of clean surface and groundwater. CCNS also believes that clean up must entail the removal of all waste buried atop the Pajarito Plateau and all potential future waste must be stored in hardened facilities aboveground.

Joni Arends, of CCNS, said, "Water is far too valuable in northern New Mexico for us to be lackadaisical in our protection of the Rio Grande. This contamination may be the first of much more to come. The only guaranteed way to defend this vital natural resource is for LANL to stop all discharges to the environment and to thoroughly clean up its waste sites."

CCNS is requesting that NMED complete the Corrective Action Order for LANL, which orders the investigation of potential contamination sources around the LANL complex in order to facilitate thorough cleanup of LANL. Released more than two years ago, the order found that "past or present storage, treatment or disposal of hazardous and solid waste at the facility may result in an imminent and substantial endangerment to human health and the environment."

DOE responded to the finding with a slew of lawsuits that delayed completion of the order. However, NMED said the final order would be released following a settlement in early 2004.

Arends argues that the report's findings should encourage NMED to complete the final order, saying, "These findings indicate that it is essential that we be proactive in protecting the Rio Grande."

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