U.S. Water News Online
LOS ALAMOS, N.M. -- 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 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
"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
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
"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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