RAC Holds Progress Meeting on LANL Risk Assessment

* The Risk Assessment Corporation (RAC) this week held a meeting to discuss the progress of the risk assessment for Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL). The risk assessment is meant to facilitate informed, risk-based decisions by the Department of Energy (DOE), LANL and interested parties about cleanup, remediation and operational activities at LANL.

In 2003, DOE contracted with Colorado State University (CSU) and RAC to develop an independent and comprehensive risk assessment for public health and the environment. In order to do that, RAC is reviewing 2001 monitoring data compiled by LANL, the U.S. Geological Survey and the New Mexico Environment Department. RAC's draft reports are available for review by interested parties, or stakeholders. Doug Stavert, of LANL's Risk Reduction and Environmental Stewardship, said that the results of this risk assessment will dictate LANL's future management practices to reduce risk, and that the assessment represents an opportunity for citizens to get involved.

However, as one community member pointed out, RAC has not clearly defined stakeholder and has yet to accept suggestions for technical experts to review RAC's documents. This led one participant to question the independence of the risk assessment. She pointed out, "[CSU] hired [RAC]; [CSU] will hire the peer reviewers; [CSU] is being paid [by DOE] to do it. It doesnąt sound entirely independent." It was suggested that DOE provide mechanisms for community members to hire independent technical experts to monitor the progress of the assessment.

Activists are concerned because the plan for the assessment includes a definition of risk that has no regulatory foundation. Therefore, it is not clear what purpose this assessment will serve, considering that it could not be used to support cleanup under existing regulatory guidelines.

Furthermore, it was pointed out that, as the assessment is only analyzing data from the year 2001, it will not consider the potential risk that would be created by the facilities currently proposed for LANL, including the Modern Pit Facility and Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Building Replacement, and facilities that may begin operation soon, such as the Biosafety Level-3 Laboratory. As one participant said, ":This risk assessment is limited to the risk for the date that the samples were taken in 2001."

Activists are also concerned that the risk assessment may supercede the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's historical document retrieval project and dose reconstruction at LANL. The dose reconstruction, which is currently threatened due to budget cuts and heightened security at LANL, would use historical emissions data to estimate the amount of radiation and chemicals to which a LANL employee or community member may have been exposed. These dose reconstructions have been used by employees at other DOE sites to support their requests for compensation for illnesses caused by their jobs. Joni Arends, of Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety, said, "Why is DOE funding a risk assessment with no obvious tie to regulatory requirements, and cutting the funding for the dose reconstruction, which has been so important for workers and communities at other DOE sites?"

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