NMED Releases Draft Permits for Sandia and Los Alamos National Laboratories

The New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) recently released draft hazardous waste permits for current operations at both of the national laboratories located in New Mexico, the Sandia and Los Alamos National Laboratories. The Sandia draft permit allows for continued handling, treatment and disposal of hazardous waste at 10 sites. The draft permit for Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) allows for the continued generation of hazardous waste, operation of 27 waste sites and orders the closure of three disposal sites at Technical Area 54, including Area G. The Department of Energy (DOE) owns both facilities.

Current hazardous waste operations are regulated under the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) and the New Mexico Hazardous Waste Act. RCRA provides a two-part regulatory scheme in order to prevent harm to public health and the environment from hazardous wastes. The first part tracks the generation of hazardous waste from “cradle to grave,” meaning that possession of hazardous waste is accounted for at all times. The second part controls who may generate, store, treat and dispose of hazardous waste.

Both laboratories are also regulated by enforceable NMED Consent Orders for cleanup activities for past operations at specific locations. NMED describes the Consent Orders as providing a fence-to-fence cleanup. Sandia submitted its application for the renewal of its RCRA permit in February 2002. Jon Goldstein, NMED Director of the Water and Waste Management Division, describes the Sandia draft permit as being “designed to dovetail with the historic, fence-to-fence clean up order to both ensure legacy waste is remediated and future operations at [Sandia] are as safe as possible.”

LANL’s RCRA permit was scheduled to expire in November 1999, but has been extended by NMED. Since then, LANL submitted revisions to its application for permit renewal. Goldstein said, “The [NMED] is committed to both cleaning up past messes at [LANL] as well as making sure future problems do not occur.”

Both permits allow for the open air burning of hazardous waste as a form of treatment. The volume is expressed in gallons, but does not necessarily mean liquids, but the waste could be in solid form. In the draft permit, Sandia is allowed to burn a volume of almost 21 gallons per event, for a maximum of 1,200 gallons per year. The draft LANL permit allows the open burning of high explosive hazardous waste of up to 2,250 pounds per event, or 60,000 pounds per year.

Last year NMED, DOE and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), including CCNS, negotiated for 17 days about the draft hazardous waste permit for the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP), the third DOE facility in New Mexico. The negotiations resulted in the first of its kind public notification requirements in the permit, including an email notification system for the public to be notified when documents are exchanged between NMED and DOE, with links to the documents. The NGOs want the same public notification requirements in the Sandia and LANL permits.

Joni Arends, of CCNS, said, "The public review of the draft permits will be arduous. NMED and DOE will exchange information throughout the process. In order for the public to make informed comments, NMED and DOE must be proactive now with these draft permits and implement the same public notification requirements as found in the WIPP permit."

Both draft permits allow a 60-day public comment period. For the Sandia permit, the comment period ends on October 19, and for the LANL permit, on October 26. To view the draft permits, please visit the NMED website at www.nmenv.state.nm.us.Plants of the Southwest.

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