* The Embudo Valley Environmental Monitoring Group recently hosted a public forum to discuss emergency preparedness in northern New Mexico in the event of an accident or other emergency at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL). The group is composed of residents of Dixon and villages along the High Road to Taos that have organized a community-based air monitoring program for LANL emissions.
The forum was organized as a result of community concerns about air emissions during a natural or radiological disaster at LANL, given that these communities are located downwind. Many residents are concerned that LANL is not being protective of their health and safety. As evidence, community members cite information that indicates that LANL failed to monitor air emissions in the downwind communities during the Cerro Grande fire of 2000. During the fire, approximately 7,000 acres burned on LANL property, potentially releasing deadly radionuclides and chemicals into the air.
The forum included a panel of emergency operations planners from the New Mexico Departments of Environment and Health, LANL and Los Alamos and Rio Arriba Counties.
They cited the LANL Emergency Operations Center as the most positive change to come as a result of the fire. The center was built using $21 million of federal funding distributed as a result of the Cerro Grande fire. The officials claim that the center will allow for better communication between agencies during emergency events. Philmont Taylor, emergency management official from Los Alamos County, said, "The [center] was built with the idea that we are going to have all these agencies responding and we ought to have a facility adequate to handle that.²"
The panel also discussed the importance of emergency planning and communication between agencies.
However, representatives of volunteer firefighter units in Dixon and Picuris Pueblo indicated that communication between emergency planners and actual emergency responders is inadequate. Bill Petico, of the Dixon Volunteer Fire Department, said, "Everybody's talking about all these plans on a national level, on a state level ... we're the first responders; where's the plan?"
Community members cited the same lack of transparency as the cause of their concerns regarding emergency situations at LANL. Felicity Fonseca, of Dixon, said, "I don't trust LANL; I think it's in their best interest not to be honest with us."
Community members are concerned that LANL is withholding information about operations and potential accident scenarios that may help communities decide the level of risk posed by LANL and how to best respond when that risk presents itself. Residents advocated greater openness by LANL in order to protect the communities effected not only by emergency situations, but also by daily operations.
One community member said, "National security is hurt by us not hearing what problems are there, what the hazards to our country [and] to our populations are; that is security. Real security is our health, the health of our nation, the health of our communities."