LANL Says Acid Canyon Cleanup Complete; Activists Are Not Sure
Los Alamos National Laboratory (or LANL) held a meeting this week to announce the completion of cleanup of the South Fork of Acid Canyon.
LANL submitted cleanup plans to the Energy Department in June, and cleanup
began in early September.
The South Fork of Acid Canyon is located between the municipal
swimming pool and the Skateboard Park in Los Alamos. Between 1944 and
1964, LANL dumped hundreds of thousands of gallons of treated and untreated
liquid radioactive waste into the canyon. This is third cleanup attempted
on Acid Canyon, although it is the first to focus on the canyon bottom
rather than the sides.
LANL removed 480 cubic yards of contaminated soil from the canyon.
Preliminary data from radiation screening indicates that LANL left
approximately 140 picoCuries per gram of plutonium in the soil, although
LANL's initial plans called for leaving 280 picoCuries per gram. A
picoCurie is measure of radioactivity. California's standard is 2.5
picoCuries per gram. LANL is pleased with the result. Al Pratt, project leader said, "I'd
classify it as one of our better successes."
Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety (or CCNS) is pleased that
cleanup work took place in the South Fork, but is concerned about whether
the cleanup is, in fact, complete. The data presented is preliminary, the
final data will not be available for up to two months, and the final
cleanup report will be available in the spring. Therefore, there are
several unanswered questions about the final amount of plutonium left in
the soil and worker exposure.
LANL determined during the first week of cleanup work that the
workers no longer needed personal air monitoring equipment, respirators or
dust masks. LANL reasoned that although the workers were working in the
most contaminated areas, the personal air monitors were not picking up
contamination. However, data from the state Environment Department
high-volume air monitors, which was verified by LANL, indicates that over
41,000 attoCuries per cubic meter of plutonium was measured in the air on a
promontory above where the workers were removing soil. The average amount
of plutonium in the air found by LANL through its environmental air
monitoring network is approximately 1 attoCurie per cubic meter. This
indicates that the disturbance of the canyon bottom with hand tools and
vacuuming of soil caused contaminated particles to be dispersed.
Plutonium can cause cancer if it is inhaled or ingested. Despite
LANL's claims that there was no risk to workers, they will conduct
urinalyses on one of the workers to ensure that they were not unnecessarily
exposed. CCNS is pushing for lifetime medical monitoring of all of the
workers. John Tauxe of Los Alamos said "The Energy Department does not have a good
track record on worker exposure. A lot of people have gone into situations
they were told were safe, and bad things happened to them."
Several Los Alamos residents asked about the restoration of the
canyon, including what kinds of seeds and fertilizer were used. Also, Los
Alamos County has requested removal of signs warning the canyon's
recreational users of its status as a LANL cleanup site. CCNS requested
another public meeting when the final report is complete.
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