CCNS Oral Argument before EAB to Terminate LANL Outfall

In late January, the Environmental Appeals Board determined an oral argument would assist the Board in its deliberations about the Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety (CCNS) appeal to terminate a discharge pipe at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) from the Clean Water Act industrial permit.  The hearing is scheduled for Thursday, February 22nd in Washington, DC.

The pipe, known as Outfall 051, discharged liquids from the Radioactive Liquid Waste Treatment Facility from 1963 until November, 2010.  Under the Clean Water Act, a facility must have a discharge in order to receive a permit.  Even though no discharge has occurred in over seven years, Outfall 051 remains on the permit.

The treatment facility receives liquid wastes from facilities which handle radioactive, toxic and hazardous materials from across LANL, including the closely located Plutonium Facility.  Most of the liquid wastes are generated by nuclear weapons research, development and manufacturing.

The current permit allows for the discharge of 40,000 gallons per day of treated liquids into a small canyon that flows into Mortandad Canyon.  Since LANL adopted zero discharge, it uses a mechanical system to evaporate treated water into the air.

Leaving the outfall on the permit has serious impacts.  The treatment facility manages drums of hazardous waste.  It would normally be regulated by the New Mexico Hazardous Waste Act, which calls for detailed regulation and provides for enhanced public participation.  But, under an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rule, called the Wastewater Treatment Unit exemption, if a facility is regulated under a Clean Water Act permit, that facility is exempt from the Hazardous Waste Act.

LANL has struggled to keep this exemption.  In a 1998 report about conversion to a zero-discharge system, LANL acknowledged that if it stopped discharging through Outfall 051, it could lose the exemption, and the “[L]oss of this exemption would mean that the [Facility] would be required to meet additional [hazardous waste] regulatory guidelines regarding waste treatment practices.  … The [Facility] would need to manage the [pollutants] in the waste stream and so have much better knowledge of, and control over, waste discharged to it for treatment.”  It also acknowledged that enhanced public participation would be required.

In June 2016, CCNS, through its attorneys, Jon Block with the New Mexico Environmental Law Center, and Lindsay A. Lovejoy, requested EPA to terminate Outfall 051 from the permit.  In August 2017, EPA denied CCNS’s request.  In September, CCNS appealed the denial to the EPA’s Environmental Appeals Board in Washington, DC.

Joni Arends, of CCNS, said, “Your support for this important and essential work is greatly appreciated.  To make a tax-deductible contribution, please visit our website at  Thank you!”


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