Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL)—Current Work
Amigos Bravos continues to seek the illumination of water contamination at Los Alamos National Laboratory. Amigos Bravos will continue to provide a leadership role for Communities for Clean Water (CCW), a collaborative of community groups who filed and settled a 2008 Clean Water Act lawsuit and continues to seek cleanup of over 2,000 dump sites on the Pajarito Plateau. We will be working with our technical experts at BioHabitats Inc. to ensure compliance with surface and groundwater regulations, the individual stormwater permit for the site, and to ensure that Low Impact Development and Green Infrastructure options are considered and implemented by the LANL staff in their compliance efforts.
On March 10, 2015, in response to a June 2014 residual designation authority (RDA) petition by Amigos Bravos and associated statement of facts, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Region 6 (EPA) announced that it was making a preliminary determination that storm water discharges from Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) and urban areas of Los Alamos County are contributing to exceedances in water quality standards and therefore require a Clean Water Act permit. We are very pleased to report this victory! Check back here soon for updates.
Communities for Clean Water (CCW)
Communities for Clean Water (CCW) works to safeguard clean water in the Rio Grande watershed. The mission of CCW is to ensure that community waters impacted by Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) are kept safe for drinking, agriculture, sacred ceremonies, and a sustainable future. The growing coalition includes Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety (CCNS), Amigos Bravos, Honor Our Pueblo Existence (HOPE), the New Mexico Acequia Association, Partnership for Earth Spirituality, and Tewa Women United.
Communities for Clean Water (CCW) has prepared the following comments on various surface and groundwater permits at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL).
November 30, 2015 CCW Comments on the New Mexico Environment Department’s draft groundwater discharge permit (DP-1835). This permit covers groundwater discharges of treated wastewater, including treated chromium contaminated water, at LANL via underground injection.
November 23rd, 2015 CCW Comments on the New Mexico Environment Department’s draft groundwater discharge permit (DP 1132). This permit covers groundwater discharges from LANL’s Radioactive Liquid Waste Facility.
June 25, 2015 CCW Comments on EPA’s draft Clean Water Act discharge permit (NM00307059) for industrial stormwater discharges at LANL. This permit covers stormwater discharges from 400 industrial sites.
June 15, 2015 CCW Commentson NMED’s draft groundwater discharge permit (DP 1793) for LANL Groundwater Projects, including mitigation efforts for chromium contaminated groundwater
June 1, 2015 CCW Commentson the New Mexico Environment Department’s draft groundwater discharge permit (DP 1132). This permit covers groundwater discharges from LANL’s Radioactive Liquid Waste Facility
March 2nd, 2015 CCW Comments on the New Mexico Environment Department’s draft groundwater discharge permit (DP 1132). This permit covers groundwater discharges from LANL’s Radioactive Liquid Waste Facility.
August 13, 2013 CCW Comments on EPA’s draft wastewater Clean Water Act permit (NM0028355) for LANL. This permit covers industrial and wastewater discharges from various facilities at Los Alamos National Laboratory.
Comments on the groundwater permits were generated with substantial technical support from CCW member organization Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety.
Background - General
LANL has a 70 year legacy of toxic and radionuclide discharges and dumping in the canyons below the lab, as well as over 2,000 solid waste dumps on site. Radioactive liquid wastes were unknown on the Pajarito Plateau before Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) began operations in 1943. LANL’s initial management decision was to discharge these untreated wastes into Los Alamos and Pueblo Canyons, despite warnings that such discharges would accumulate and lead to highly contaminated conditions in the canyons and, conceivably, in the Río Grande.
Seventy years later, LANL is still discharging liquid wastes into canyons below the lab – on December 23rd 2005, LANL reported that chromium was detected in the regional aquifer supplying Los Alamos County with drinking water and that discharges into Mortandad Canyon were a possible source. Amigos Bravos and partners continue to watchdog LANL operations and have hired experts to ensure LANL’s compliance with its new discharge permit.
Based on four sampling trips along the Río Grande and in canyons below LANL, third-party analyses of the hydrology of the Pajarito Plateau and LANL’s well-drilling program, NMED sampling and analyses, and recent LANL revelations, LANL Water Watch is focusing on four core issues regarding LANL impacts on water:
- Chromium (the same toxic pollutant as shown in the Erin Brockovitch movie) detected in the Los Alamos regional aquifer
- PCBs detected in extraordinarily high concentrations in soil samples from LANL and also found in fish in the Río Chama and Río Grande watersheds resulting in the first ever fish advisory for the Río Grande
- Perchlorate (a toxic pollutant used in explosives) detected in one drinking well by Los Alamos County leading to its closure
- Area G, where LANL has always and continues to bury low-level radioactive waste in unlined pits, shafts and trenches and which LANL is proposing to expand
We will use post-settlement work at LANL to provide a model for controlling toxic stormwater runoff at sites across the arid West. In addition, we will continue to fully engage in two current NPDES permit processes taking place at LANL (wastewater permit in late 2013, stormwater renewal in 2014-2015), as well as four groundwater permits (DP-1132 for Radioactive Liquid Waste Facility, DP-857 and DP-1589 for wastewater and septic systems, and DP-1793 for remediation of production water, chromium, and RDX).
Background - Legal
On February 7th, 2008, Amigos Bravos, Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety, Don Gabino Andrade Community Acequia Association, Embudo Valley Environmental Monitoring Group, New Mexico Acequia Association, Partnership for Earth Spirituality, Río Grande Restoration, SouthWest Organizing Project, Gilbert Sanchez, Kathy Sanchez, and Tewa Women United filed a lawsuit against Los Alamos National Laboratory for violations of the Clean Water Act.
To download the full complaint click here.
In March 2009, Amigos Bravos and its partners filed an appeal of the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Individual Stormwater Permit for LANL. We participated throughout the permit application process, but believe the final ISP fails to meet Clean Water Act (CWA) requirements; it would give LANL up to 7 years to meet permit requirements, even though they have already failed to comply with permits for almost two decades.
In August 2009, Amigos Bravos and its partners entered into settlement negotiations with LANL over both the lawsuit and the appeal of the Individual Stormwater Permit.
On October 13th, 2012 the Water Quality Control Commission for the first time adopted water quality standards that are protective of human health for Tritium, Americium, Strontium, Plutonium and Cesium, for the Rio Grande downstream of Los Alamos National Laboratory. Amigos Bravos provided extensive testimony prior to the WQCC's decision.
On November 1st, 2010 the EPA issued the first individual industrial stormwater permit for discharges from LANL. The permit, which was the cumulative result of an administrative appeal (filed by Amigos Bravos and our partner organizations in Communities for Clean Water) and months of negotiations, mandates the elimination of contaminated discharges from 600 dump sites at LANL within five years. The new permit represents another huge victory for citizen intervention. EPA has stated that the new LANL permit is the strongest individual industrial stormwater permit in the nation.