New Mexico Environment Department Holds Second Public Meeting on Cerro Grande Fire Risk Assessment

DOE Announces Acid Canyon Cleanup Plans

* Meetings were held this week in Santa Fe, Taos, and Los Alamos to discuss the independent risk assessment of the health and environmental impacts of the Cerro Grande fire. The Risk Assessment Corporation (or RAC) presented new information on the surface water and air monitoring data for radionuclides and chemicals they collected from the different agencies, including the Department of Energy, the state Environment Department, and the Environmental Protection Agency.

The work is proceeding ahead despite some early problems with data collection. RAC is recommending that the agencies develop compatible sampling techniques and data formats so that when there is another disaster like the Cerro Grande fire, a decisionmaker can make decisions based on comparable data.

Citizens raised concerns about certain aspects of the risk assessment, including whether bioaccumulation of radionuclides and chemicals in plants, animals and waterlife will be included in the study. Another issue was where sampling can take place to establish a background reading for radionuclides and chemicals which has not been impacted by almost 60 years of LANL activities. Citizens were also concerned that time constraints would prevent RAC from completing a thorough and accurate investigation to sufficiently predict future risk. As the risk assessment is unfolding, activists are asking if additional funding should be obtained to continue the risk assessment for the next five to seven years.

DOE Announces Acid Canyon Cleanup Plans

The Department of Energy (or DOE) has released the Interim Action Plan for the South Fork of Acid Canyon this week, which details cleanup plans for the Los Alamos County park. In the plan, DOE has determined the spots of Acid Canyon that they consider to be most contaminated. These spots total approximately 229 cubic yards of soil, although 880 cubic yards have been recommended for removal. Activists believe that DOE is using a double standard because the proposed cleanup level for the park is more than ten times that used by DOE on its own property. DOE intends to scoop the spots out of the canyon bottom and transport the soil to Technical Area 54, LANLšs disposal site.

Acid Canyon is an appendage of Pueblo Canyon. The lower 650 feet of the South Fork of Acid Canyon holds 15% of all of the plutonium found in the soil in the Pueblo Canyon watershed. Activists are concerned that DOEšs plan for removal would leave the South Fork of Acid Canyon vulnerable to erosion problems during the remaining monsoon season and winter snowmelt. Erosion would spread remaining contamination from Acid Canyon to the Pueblo Canyon Watershed.

DOE used the ALARA (or "As Low As Reasonably Achievable") guidelines to estimate the risk. Under ALARA guidelines DOE is required to address the political and social impacts of the cleanup. DOE's plan addresses neither the social and political impacts of the cleanup, nor the remaining danger to people living downwind and downstream of Acid Canyon.

Thousands of gallons of treated and untreated nuclear waste were dumped into the South Fork of Acid Canyon for twenty years, beginning in 1944. The canyon is located in Los Alamos between the skateboard park and the municipal swimming pool.

Back to News Index