DOE Blocks Retrieval of Documents in Dose Reconstruction Research at Los
Alamos National Laboratory
Radioactive Contamination Levels Rise in Water from Los Alamos area
Wagon Mound Dump May Become a De Facto Low-level Waste Disposal Area
Department of Energy (DOE) has denied access to boxes of documents
concerning historical contamination at Los Alamos National Laboratory
(LANL) to researchers from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control
(CDC) in Atlanta. The restriction to the documents has postponed
a $4.2 million, three-year investigation into the historic emissions
of toxic chemicals and radioactive contaminants from LANL.
and its environmental contractor, ChemRisk, were in the process
of analyzing thousands of boxes of LANL documents in order to
determine the emissions that may have impacted the health of residents
of Northern New Mexico over the past 57-years. CDC's research
is currently at a standstill due to the numerous security issues
LANL has confronted lately, including the Cerro Grande fire in
May, the disappearance of computer hard drives containing confidential
information this spring, and the Wen Ho Lee debacle.
In the mid-1980s,
DOE agreed to allow CDC access to all of LANL's epidemiologic
records. However, because of security problems facing LANL earlier
this year, DOE Secretary Bill Richardson signed an initiative
restricting visitors from the classified vaults without a security
clearance and an escort.
Tom Widner, program director of ChemRisk
said, "We've got quite a bit of work to do before we can say anything
about off-site health hazards," but "it's pretty much at a standstill
At the September 13th CDC meeting in Los Alamos, ChemRisk
released a draft status report on their progress to date along
with nine sample documents. The sample documents provide information
about the emissions from the stacks, explosive test shots, and
monitoring done in the early years of LANL operations. In the
next few weeks, these documents and others will be available for
review by the public at UNM's Zimmerman Library in Albuquerque.
CDC's Project Manager Paul Renard stated that if CDC and ChemRisk
were not granted access to the classified areas soon, he would
recommend terminating the project. Because of LANL's history of
secrecy, activists are not surprised, but are extremely concerned
that citizens of Northern New Mexico may never know the estimated
doses of contaminants the area around LANL has been exposed to.
This could be devastating because the CDC study could reveal long
term exposure to the people of Northern New Mexico.
a recently released LANL report, radioactive contaminants and
other chemicals, including cyanide, were detected in summer storm
run-off from Lab property. LANL officials believe that the contaminated
water and sediment may have run into the Rio Grande. The contamination
is thought to be due, in part, to the Cerro Grande fire, which
burned thousands of acres in the Los Alamos area earlier this
year. But LANL officials say that most of the radioactivity found
came from fallout from worldwide nuclear testing in the 1940s
The runoff samples contain amounts of cesium-137, plutonium
and strontium-90 three to 20 times higher than prefire water samples.
The contaminated water also includes levels of cyanide five times
greater than the standard for New Mexico fishing water levels.
LANL officials say that cyanide is not used in LANL's operations.
They claim the cyanide is probably from the fire retardant used
to fight the Cerro Grande fire.
private landfill near Wagon Mound New Mexico has begun receiving
asbestos contaminated debris and ash resulting from the Cerro
Grande fire near Los Alamos. The dumping raises concerns among
Wagon Mound residents about the health issues regarding the dumping.
Concerned Citizens of Wagon Mound, a local environmental watchdog
group, has requested that the government test the debris to ensure
More than 2,000 cubic yards of asbestos-laden waste
will be moved to the landfill. So far, 68 to 75 percent of the
debris has been moved, and no testing on the debris has yet been
done. The county government has suggested that Concerned Citizens
of Wagon Mound apply to the federal Cerro Grande Assistance Act.
This act has established a procedure for those who suffered losses
in the fire to file claims against the government.
The state Environment
Department has so far declined to test the debris, saying that
nothing indicates that the debris is radioactive.
of contaminants in storm water runoff in the LANL area has increased
the communities concerns. The issue is especially important to
some Wagon Mound residents. As Karen Dudley, a member of Concerned
Citizens for Wagon Mound says, if levels are higher near the lab,
they may be higher in the debris. "This is why we want the testing
done." Without testing for radionuclides, activists are very concerned
that the municipal waste dump, which was recently permitted to
accept hazardous waste, is now becoming a de facto low-level waste
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