* Residents of Dixon, New Mexico, this week urged the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) and Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) to increase monitoring of communities downwind of LANL. At a community meeting to discuss the Cerro Grande Fire risk assessment performed by the Risk Assessment Corporation (RAC), Dixon residents cited the importance of community involvement in emergency response.
Since the May 2000 Cerro Grande Fire, the community of Dixon has raised concerns about the fire's impacts to the soil, air, surface water, sediment and vegetation in their area. Dixon is located in the Embudo Valley, which is home to the largest population of organic farmers in New Mexico. Residents raised these concerns to community groups, including Citizens for Alternatives to Radioactive Dumping, Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety and the Community Radiation Monitoring Group, who collectively worked with LANL to provide the area with air monitoring equipment and training.
The equipment will help residents establish background radiation levels so they can decide independently whether to evacuate the area during the next emergency on LANL property. Sheri Kotowski, of Dixon, said, "We feel that we need more extensive monitoring not only because of the Cerro Grande [Fire] but because we are in a direct pathway and we need to establish background in this area." LANL admits that it is difficult to provide public notification in emergency situations, saying, "The bottom line is that there is no, no one comprehensive public notification system."
The equipment will also help provide a more complete picture of the risk that LANL poses to surrounding communities. Citizens are concerned that RAC's assessment provides an incomplete analysis of the risks posed by the Cerro Grande Fire considering that it only accounts for data sources in Los Alamos, Española and Santa Fe, neglecting many of the communities consumed by smoke from the fire. John Till, of RAC, said that his team used all available data sources for the assessment, but that it is up to the community to decide its level of acceptable risk. Till said, "We can make these calculations, but you have to make your own judgments."
Some community members question the validity of RAC's calculations, however. Critics are concerned because RAC's assessment relies on data that was recently proven to have underestimated contamination on LANL property. Furthermore, RAC's assessment overlooked the subtle topography of northern New Mexico and modeling was limited to the first three days of the fire, discounting the smoldering period during which 70% of total particulate emissions from wildfires occur.
These concerns have bolstered the community's demand for more thorough monitoring of areas surrounding LANL. Resident Carol Miller said, "We as citizens have to organize and tell our elected representatives that we want sufficient monitoring. I don't want to hear from NMED that they had to throw out samples because there's no money to test them. I don't want to hear that LANL just got a huge increase in funding for its nuclear weapons program [but] has cut the budget for our community monitoring program."