NMED to Hear Comments on Sandia's Mixed Waste Landfill

* The New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) will hear technical testimony and public comments about the cleanup options for the Mixed Waste Landfill at Sandia National Laboratory on Thursday, December 2 in Albuquerque.

The landfill contains an estimated 100,000 cubic feet of radioactive and hazardous waste that accumulated during the Cold War. The landfill is located in the southeast part of Albuquerque, near the proposed Mesa del Sol residential development area.

The waste is buried on approximately 2.6 acres in unlined pits and trenches above Albuquerque's only aquifer. NMED will decide that the Department of Energy (DOE) must either clean up the landfill or leave the waste in place and monitor its emissions indefinitely. DOE argues that it would be too dangerous to workers to remove the waste from the landfill.

However, activists argue that the primary contaminant in the waste, according to DOE, is cobalt-60, which would have decayed sufficiently since its disposal as to pose little threat to workers cleaning the site.

Also, DOE argues that the waste poses no threat to the aquifer beneath. Activists also point out that a nearby chemical waste dump at Sandia has contaminated the aquifer beneath Albuquerque with dangerous trichloroethelene, a solvent that was also disposed at the landfill. Sue Dayton, of Citizen Action, which has lead the effort to clean up the landfill thoroughly, said, "Can Sandia [and] DOE ... guarantee that [this] landfill will never contaminate the aquifer as other landfills at Sandia have already done? If not, it needs to be cleaned up now."

Two groups of independent scientists have concluded that the waste could be removed from the landfill in order to be protective of public health and the environment. Citizen Action proposes removing the waste and leaving it in on-site retrievable storage or shipping it to a facility licensed to handle this type of waste.

DOE proposes to leave the waste in the landfill and monitor the site indefinitely under its long-term stewardship program. However, a National Academy of Sciences report has found that such a program will not be sufficient to isolate waste from the environment over the time that it remains toxic. .

Activists are skeptical of the plan. As Peter Neils, of the Native Forest Network, said, "...Permitting the polluter to prescribe the remedy must be acknowledged to be an inherently flawed approach to addressing this problem."

NMED must approve any plan before it takes effect. NMED Secretary Ron Curry said that he hopes that there will be an open and robust public discussion about the future of the landfill. Curry said that all comments will be reviewed before NMED issues a decision..

There will be a public meeting to discuss potential cleanup solutions for the Mixed Waste Landfill on Tuesday, November 30 at 7 p.m. at the Loma Linda Community Center, located at 1700 Yale SE in Albuquerque. For more information, call (505) 280-1844.

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