Questions Remain About the Safety of Rio Grande Water Soon to Arrive in Santa Fe Households

November 12, 2010

Although an independent research organization concluded in an October draft report that there is no health risk to Santa Fe-area residents drinking Buckman Direct Diversion Project tap water, the report has also prompted questions about its methodology and scope. The ChemRisk company was contracted last year by the Buckman Direct Diversion Board to provide a peer review of studies and data from the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) and other sources that showed the water was free of excess contaminants. ChemRisk reported the levels of 52 contaminants found in river water samples and found that none of them exceeded the standards of the federal Safe Drinking Water Act.

At the public meeting with ChemRisk last January, participants noted the limitations of federal standards based on "Reference Man," a 154-pound adult male. They asked that certain populations, such as newborns, infants, children, and the elderly, be studied separately, since their risk from contaminants in the drinking water may be much higher. The draft report does break down the population into seven discrete groups for analyses of exposure to radionuclides, but only four groups for exposure to chemicals.

Again, the public asked whether nanoparticles - particles 10,000 times smaller than a human hair - would be removed by the state-of-the-art filtering system at the Buckman Project. (See DOE "The Center for Integrated Nanotechnologies" at LANL at The report does not address this question.

The draft report relies primarily on data from the New Mexico Environment Department and LANL. This methodological choice raises serious concerns since the conclusions of the report were not independently confirmed, as they would have been if ChemRisk scientists had taken samples directly from the Rio Grande.

Finally, and from the broader perspective of expansion at LANL, some of the promised cleanup of contaminated sites fell afoul of plans at the Lab to build a proposed Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement Project - Nuclear Facility. In 2009, LANL received $212 million in stimulus funding. The Environmental Protection Agency has identified 40 high-priority dumpsites in Los Alamos/Pueblo Canyon, where storm water run-off enters the Rio Grande upstream of the Buckman Project. Cleanup at these sites would help assure the safety of the water. Instead of using stimulus funds for cleanup, LANL chose to demolish unused buildings whose square footage can be banked, as required by the DOE, against the square footage required for construction of the CMRR Project. (See Weapons Activities/RTBF/Construction/04-D-125, CMR Building Replacement Project, LANL FY 2011 Congressional Budget, page 228.)

The deadline for public comments on the ChemRisk report is Monday, November 15. These can be sent by email to Matthew H. Le at mailto: . A final public meeting with ChemRisk will be held at the Santa Fe Community Convention Center on Tuesday, December 7 from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m. More information is available at and .

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