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Report: Los Alamos Lab Waste Found In Rio Grande

Aug 22, 2004 | AP

In the latest dispute over possible contaminants from the Los Alamos National Laboratory, a Texas hydrologist says low concentrations of explosives and perchlorate suspected to be from the lab have reached the Rio Grande.

The report by George Rice, released last week, says the contaminants have reached the river through springs within the last 60 years.

Lab officials have said the Rio Grande should be safe from contaminants from the lab for anywhere from hundreds to thousands of years, depending on where the contaminants are located.

Rice, who wrote the report after being hired by the Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety, believes these pollutants came from the lab. "I relied exclusively on samples collected by the lab and the state," he said.

The laboratory doesn't dispute that contaminants have entered the groundwater beneath its 40-square-mile property. What has been unclear is whether the waste has entered the Rio Grande.

James Rickman, a lab spokesman, said he had not read Rice's report.

"Looking at the spring data so far, the conclusion that there's a pathway of less than 100 years to the Rio Grande is in dispute and it continues to be under study," Rickman said.

For three decades, the lab has monitored groundwater on its property, trying to figure out the exact travel times of contaminants.

Except for an explosive found once at a spring in 1991, Rice said, none of the samples of concern surpassed safe drinking water or federal environmental standards.

Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety wants the lab to clean up contamination, remove all waste buried atop Pajarito Plateau, store future waste safely above ground and manage buried waste in ways that protect the Rio Grande and the aquifer beneath the plateau.

State Environment Department spokesman Jon Goldstein couldn't respond specifically to Rice's conclusions, but said his agency is also concerned about contaminants. Results from the agency's water sampling tests have led the state to believe pollutants could be migrating faster than the lab predicts, Goldstein said.

About a year ago, the lab found perchlorate in almost every area tested upstream and downstream from the lab and outside its immediate surroundings.

"We have no idea where it came from," Rickman said. The chemical is used in rocket fuels and is a byproduct of radiochemistry work, but there are other sources.

Rice said he took the complexity of perchlorate into consideration when drawing his conclusions about spring contamination.

Rickman said the lab has pinpointed the sources of high explosives, perchlorate and radionuclides and is addressing the sites with the highest risk to the environment.

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