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        PO BOX 4276
        Albuquerque, NM 87196-4276

 

N E W S R E L E A S E

Date: March 18, 2014 Contact: Dave McCoy, Exec. Director Citizen Action NM (505) 262-1862

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Citizen Action NM, a local environmental action group, has filed a lawsuit against the NM Environment Department (NMED) for inaction regarding Sandia National Laboratory’s (SNL) Mixed Waste Landfill (MWL). In particular, the lawsuit challenges NMED for not forcing SNL to comply with a key provision of the 2005 Final Order regarding the MWL which requires that “Sandia shall prepare a report every 5 years, re-evaluating the feasibility of excavation and analyzing the continued effectiveness of the selected remedy.”

The NMED, in its January 8, 2014 approval of the MWL permit, extended the deadline for the initial five-year report for another five years--until the year 2019.

The Citizen Action lawsuit argues that the NMED has violated federal law and its own Final Order by modifying the Final Order without complying with the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) hazardous waste permit proceeding procedures, as required both by RCRA and the Final Order adopted pursuant to RCRA.

The lawsuit further contends that “The MWL wastes are being released into Albuquerque's groundwater and pose an imminent and substantial endangerment to public health and the environment.”

Background:

The mixed-waste landfill (MWL) at Sandia National Laboratory (SNL) is a 2.6 acre site located five miles southeast of the Albuquerque Sunport in a growing urban area 460 feet above the aquifer that supplies Albuquerque’s drinking water.

The MWL received radioactive and hazardous waste from nuclear weapons production between 1959 and 1988. The documented waste in the landfill includes more than one hundred barrels of long-lived plutonium-contaminated waste, tons of depleted uranium and tritium, and hazardous waste such as lead, beryllium and solvents such as trichloroethylenes (TCE), polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB) and perchloroethylene (PCE). These radioactive and hazardous wastes were enclosed in plastic bags, cardboard boxes, and steel drums and then dumped into unlined pits and trenches that are now leaking into Albuquerque's aquifer. Today it would be illegal to dispose of such dangerous waste in this manner.

A public hearing about the Mixed Waste Landfill was held in December 2004 to determine what should be done with the waste. Based on testimony from representatives of SNL and the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED), the hearing officer recommended to NMED that the waste be left undisturbed but covered with a layer of dirt and rocks. Public testimony at the public hearing was overwhelmingly against leaving the waste in place, and recommendations by scientific experts in favor of excavation and clean up of the dump went unheeded.

In response to recommendations made by independent scientists, NMED ordered SNL to conduct a “fate and transport” model (FTM) as part of the permit for the dump. Such a model examines the movement and potential releases of contaminants to the groundwater and surrounding environment. Completed in November 2005, the FTM predicted that contaminants could reach Albuquerque’s drinking water as early as the year 2010.

In 2005 the NMED issued a final order concerning the MWL which requires SNL to conduct an excavation feasibility study every five years, including determining to what extent contaminants in the MWL have reached the groundwater. To date, SNL has not conducted the mandatory feasibility study (due in 2010) and intends five more years of delay, in violation of its own final order.

For more information about the MWL and the work of CANM, go to their website: http://www.radfreenm.org/