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

*The 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.

CDC 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 right now."

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.

*In 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 and 50s.

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.

*A 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 its safety.

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.

The discovery 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 dump.


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