State Supports Sandia's Plan to Abandon Toxic Waste Dump
The New Mexico Environment Department has issued an initial approval of a plan that will leave radioactive and hazardous waste located at Sandia National Laboratories sitting in shallow, unlined pits and trenches over Albuquerque's sole source aquifer next to one of the city's fastest growing urban areas.
Under the plan proposed by the Department of Energy and Sandia National Laboratories (DOE/SNL) the Mixed Waste Landfill, a 2.6-acre Cold War waste site containing an estimated 100,000 cubic ft. of waste, will be left in the ground, covered over with dirt and "monitored forever." The landfill is located just a few miles from the Mesa del Sol residential development planned to be built within the next 10 years.
Sue Dayton, Director of the public interest group Citizen Action which opposes DOE/SNL's plan for the Mixed Waste Landfill, said that she is extremely disappointed that the New Mexico Environment Department is tentatively supporting a plan that does not protect nearby communities over the long-term and poses a potential threat to Albuquerque's sole source aquifer.
"The landfill has no lining, the inventory is speculative at best, much of the waste will remain essentially hazardous forever, and other landfills at Sandia have already contaminated the aquifer," said Dayton. "Can Sandia, DOE and the Environment Department guarantee that the Mixed Waste Landfill will never contaminate the aquifer as other landfills at Sandia have already done? If not, it needs to be cleaned up - now."
Dayton further pointed out that the Environment Department has ignored the findings of at least 6 independent scientists who have concluded the Mixed Waste Landfill should be excavated and cleaned up to protect human health and the environment. The studies, citing numerous deficiencies in DOE/SNL's plan for the Mixed Waste Landfill, were conducted by independent scientists contracted by both Citizen Action (see: www.radfreenm.org) and the Consortium for Environmental Education and Technology Development (WERC) at www.werc.net.
A public hearing has been scheduled for the Mixed Waste Landfill where comments from citizens and testimonies of independent scientific experts will be heard, and representatives from DOE/SNL and the Environment Department must support their positions. Environment Department Secretary Ron Curry will make a final decision for the landfill based on public comments and experts' testimonies received at the hearing.
The public hearing will begin on Thursday, December 2, 2004, 9 a.m., at the Radisson Hotel and Conference Center, 2500 Carlisle Blvd. N.E., Albuquerque. For more information contact Citizen Action at (505) 280-1844.
State hits Sandia Labs with $3.2 million fine for environmental violations
Sandia National Laboratories has been hit with a $3.2 million fine by the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) for violating several state hazardous waste management regulations and Sandia's hazardous waste permit during a February 2003 inspection by the department.
The NMED found Sandia guilty of a total of 27 violations. The violations range from:
The $3.2 million will go to the State of New Mexico's Hazardous Waste Emergency Fund and made available for environmental clean ups. Jon Goldstein, NMED Communications Director, said the fines were increased based on Sandia's history of noncompliance.
On another front Citizen Action is advocating that Sandia and the Department of Energy (DOE) come up with a plan for clean up of the Mixed Waste Landfill, a Cold War waste dump where both radioactive, chemical wastes, and heavy metals were disposed of from 1959-1988 in unlined pits and trenches above Albuquerque's water supply.
Sandia's proposed plan is to cover the landfill with dirt under a plan conceived by the DOE called "Accelerated Clean Up." Citizen Action maintains the landfill has not been adequately characterized due to poor record keeping concerning the types and amounts of waste buried at the landfill, and that the landfill presents a long-term hazard to surrounding communities and the environment.
Citizen Group Files Lawsuit Against DOE Albuquerque Operations Office
Citizen Action, a public interest group, has filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Energy/Albuquerque Operations Office (DOE) which contains a request for a mandatory injunction against the DOE. The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court today citing DOE's failure to release documents requested under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The documents contain information related to high level waste (HLW) that may be buried in a Cold War waste site known as the Mixed Waste Landfill located at Sandia National Laboratories.
The mandatory injunction request filed by Citizen Action asks the Court to require DOE to turn over documents containing information on experiments using oxide nuclear reactor fuels shipped to Sandia during the 1980s for experiments simulating nuclear reactor meltdowns. The lawsuit also seeks a judgment by the Court that states DOE has violated the terms of the FOIA by "failing to provide the requested information" and "failing to comply with the procedural time limits established by the FOIA."
Citizen Action's initial FOIA request for release of the documents was filed in August, 2002. The DOE denied Citizen Action's request for a fee waiver, and Citizen Action appealed the DOE's denial ultimately winning their appeal in April, 2003, for the release of the documents at no cost to citizens. To date the documents have not been released.
The request for the FOIA documents comes on the heels of a New Mexico Environment Department/DOE Oversight Bureau report disputed by Citizen Action that maintains no HLW was disposed of in the Mixed Waste Landfill; a white paper submitted to the New Mexico Environment Department by Dr. Eric Nuttall, Professor of Chemical and Nuclear Engineering at the University of New Mexico, that concludes HLW from experiments with the oxide reactor fuels is likely to be buried in the landfill; and previous FOIA documents that reveal numerous canisters that contained oxide nuclear reactor fuels from the experiments were disposed of "haphazardly" in the landfill while other canisters were placed vertically in holes drilled into the bottoms of trenches in the landfill.
"Sandia and DOE has not been forthcoming in making this information available to the public," said Sue Dayton, a co-founder of Citizen Action. "This information is essential to making an informed decision on a remedy for the landfill based on facts about what is buried at the site, not anecdotal evidence."
The plan proposed for the landfill by Sandia and DOE is to cover it with 3 ft. of dirt, surround it with signs and fences, and designate it for industrial land use due to its hazardous contents. For more information contact Citizen Action at (505)280-1844 or www.radfreenm.org.
Pete Domenici creates legislation that protects lab and places communities at risk
An Omnibus bill scheduled to be passed by the House and Senate next week contains language created by Senator Pete Domenici that will result in increased risks to communities located near the Mixed Waste Landfill, a 2.6-acre radioactive and hazardous waste dump located in a growing urban area of Albuquerque.
The language created by Domenici prevents the state from requiring Sandia National Laboratories (SNL) and its contractors to establish a financial trust mechanism for long-term monitoring of the landfill. Domenici added the language to the Omnibus after he received a call from SNL representative Cory Cruz.
SNL/DOE's proposed plan for the landfill is to place 3 ft. of dirt on top of the over 300,000 cubic feet of Cold War radioactive and hazardous waste in unlined pits and trenches under a low-cost program known as "stewardship." Independent scientists have concluded that due to the location, nature and amounts of waste the Mixed Waste Landfill poses a potential threat to the health of nearby communities and if not eventually cleaned up will become a legacy waste issue.
Sue Dayton, Director of Citizen Action, a 17-member coalition of groups advocating for clean up of the Mixed Waste Landfill, accused the lab of illegally lobbying members of Congress. She said the "behind-the-door" move by Mr. Cruz and Senator Domenici prevents the New Mexico Environment Department from ensuring the landfill will be monitored responsibly through the establishment of a trust bond or other type of financial assurance.
Dayton said," This shows that Sandia, Lockheed Martin and DOE have no intention of monitoring this waste site or any others over the long-term. You have a two-prong problem: Sandia believes it is above working with the state and stakeholders in finding a solution for this problem, and Domenici once again demonstrates his unconditional support for the nuclear industry polluters in usurping the state's authority at the expense of human health and the environment."
Dayton added that the provision in the Omnibus bill, which is opposed by the State of New Mexico, will not only set a dangerous precedent for responsible long-term management of the Mixed Waste Landfill, but at waste sites located at Los Alamos National Laboratory, and at federal facilities around the country.
For more information contact Citizen Action: (505) 280-1844 or www.radfreenm.org.
Real Estate Agents Lobby for Clean Up of Sandia Toxic Waste Dump
A coalition of Albuquerque realtors has sent a letter to Governor Bill Richardson urging him to support clean up of a landfill located on Albuquerque's East Mesa that contains radioactive and hazardous waste leftover from the Cold War.
The 2.6-acre waste site known as the Mixed Waste Landfill is located at Sandia National Laboratories (SNL) and contains 300,000 cubic ft. of radioactive and chemical waste. The waste was disposed of in unlined pits and trenches as a result of nuclear weapons research and development during the Cold War years. The waste will be essentially hazardous forever.
The letter containing 26 signatures from members of the "Elite 25," a preeminent group of real estate agents representing the Albuquerque metropolitan area, told Governor Richardson the Mixed Waste Landfill has the potential to impede future growth and development and should be cleaned up for the "health and safety of our community." They cited additional concerns regarding the future landowners at the proposed Mesa del Sol development located adjacent to the landfill.
Barrie Beverley, a member of the "Elite 25" said, "Albuquerque doesn't have many directions it can grow. Land that contains buried toxic waste cannot be tolerated in areas with great growth potential such as Mesa del Sol. An alternative that supports complete clean up of the landfill is the only plan that should be considered."
Under its "Accelerated Clean Up" program the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), the agency responsible for the dump, has proposed the waste be left in the ground and covered with dirt followed by a program called "stewardship." Stewardship has been harshly criticized by the National Academy of Sciences, independent scientists, and academics as resulting in "increased risk to human health and the environment."
Previous research by Citizen Action has shown that much less is known about the waste buried in the landfill than previously disclosed to the public. DOE and SNL representatives claim the landfill can't be cleaned up due to: 1) high costs; 2) no place to store the waste; 3) excavation presents too great a risk to workers. Despite land development in the area SNL/DOE contends the waste is safe enough to leave in the ground in perpetuity.
Public's Right-To-Know About Toxic Waste Upheld
DOE Washington says denial of Citizen Action fee waiver by local DOE office illegitimate
The U.S. Department of Energy Office of Hearings and Appeals in Washington, D.C. today granted Citizen Action a FULL and UNCONDITIONAL waiver of all fees related to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request submitted by Citizen Action for documents pertaining to illegal potential dumping of high level waste at the Mixed Waste Landfill, a toxic waste dump at Sandia National Laboratories. The waste contains oxide reactor fuels from nuclear reactors shipped to the lab during the mid-1980s for experiments simulating nuclear meltdowns.
This decision by Washington came 6 months after Citizen Action first submitted the request to the local Albuquerque/DOE office to verify whether the highly radioactive fuels, along with the steel canisters that held them, were also disposed of in the Mixed Waste Landfill. The local Albuquerque/DOE office refused to search for the documents without first being paid a fee of over $3,000 and cited a number of unsubstantiated reasons why Citizen Action should not be allowed access to the documents. However, the DOE Office of Hearings and Appeals in Washington, D.C., called the reasons "illegitimate" and sided with Citizen Action in all cases granting Citizen Action full access to the requested documents.
The Mixed Waste Landfill is a 2.6-acre toxic waste site containing 30-years of radioactive and chemical waste buried in unlined trenches on top of Albuquerque's sole source aquifer. It is located on the outskirts of Albuquerque in close proximity to a number of communities including the future site of the Mesa del Sol, a residential development and about a mile from the proposed La Semilla Nature Center. Documents obtained by Citizen Action from previous FOIA requests have revealed that liquids were disposed of in the landfill, contrary to statements made by Sandia/DOE that they were not. Radioactively contaminated liquids were disposed of in an area known as the "radioactive acid pit" in the southeast corner of the landfill.
"This is a clear victory for the public who has a right-to-know what's buried in a toxic waste dump that may someday come back to haunt future generations of New Mexicans," said Sue Dayton, Director for Citizen Action.
To read the decision issued by the Washington, D.C., U.S. Department of Energy Office of Hearings and Appeals go to the following link:
DOE Denies FOIA Fee Waiver To Citizens' Group
Toxic legacy waste dump could contain nuclear reactor waste
The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) wants to charge citizens thousands of dollars to conduct a search for information to find out whether oxide nuclear reactor fuels shipped to Sandia National Laboratories (SNL) "from nuclear reactors around the world" were disposed of in a landfill containing radioactive and hazardous waste proposed to be left in the ground. The oxide reactor fuels were used in experiments to simulate nuclear meltdowns at SNL during the mid-1980s.
Previous documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by Citizen Action, a coalition advocating for clean up of the waste site, neither confirm or deny the fuels were buried at the Mixed Waste Landfill, a Cold War legacy waste dump containing radioactive and chemical waste situated on the outskirts of Albuquerque. Historical memos from SNL note that an "unknown number of canisters" disposed of in the Mixed Waste Landfill used to transport the oxide nuclear reactor fuels to SNL may contain "hazardous constituents." The steel canisters were disposed of in the Mixed Waste Landfill before it closed in 1988. SNL representatives have stated the oxide nuclear reactor fuels were not disposed of in the Mixed Waste Landfill; however, no records have been produced to support these claims.
"The DOE has a responsibility to provide citizens with written information from actual records that serve as documentation for the whereabouts of these fuels on their own time, at no further charge to citizens," said Sue Dayton, one of the co-founders of Citizen Action. "This is a matter of environmental and public concern regarding an issue that could potentially be a long-term public health issue for communities living in close proximity to the landfill."
Citizen Action has requested the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) demand a full accounting of the oxide reactor fuels to further characterize the contents of the landfill. Efforts to date by the NMED to obtain records of the whereabouts of the oxide fuels have been unsuccessful. Citizen Action will appeal DOE's decision and has contacted Senator Jeff Bingaman to ask for his assistance with the issue. For more information contact Citizen Action: (505) 280-1844 or www.radfreenm.org.
DOE Agrees to Fund Independent Peer Review of Sandia Hazardous Waste Dump
Citizens will be involved with study that looks at options for waste
Citizen groups are hoping to be further ensured that a study funded by the Department of Energy (DOE) that looks at what to do with long-lived hazardous radioactive and chemical waste will be unbiased and objective through independent scientific review thanks to an agreement reached by the DOE and Citizen Action, a 16-member coalition advocating for clean up of a radioactive and chemical waste site known as the Mixed Waste Landfill at Sandia National Laboratories (SNL).
Jean Brocklebank of Living Rivers, and a Citizen Action coalition member, said: "We take Thomas Jefferson's admonition that we have not only rights, but responsibilities as citizens to be involved in our government's business."
The study, called a Corrective Measures Study (CMS), has been ordered by the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED), and requires SNL to look at a full range of closure options for wastes disposed of at the dump over the course of 30-years as result of nuclear weapons development at SNL during the Cold War years.
Citizens have expressed concerns that the study conducted by SNL will reflect the DOE's preferred alternative for the waste which is to leave the long-lived waste buried as it is under plan called "accelerated clean up." Instead of actual clean up, the waste will be kept off-limits to the public by using signs, fences and other forms of land use restrictions, dubbed "stewardship," to prevent people from being exposed to toxic waste. DOE's stewardship program has been criticized by the National Academy of Sciences as likely to result in increased health risks to the public over the long-term. The landfill is currently located in one of Albuquerque's fastest growing urban areas over the city's sole source aquifer.
John Arthur, Manager for the Department of Energy Albuquerque Operations Office. U.S. Department of Energy, said due to his agency's contract responsibilities with Lockheed Martin his agency could not fund an independent CMS as requested by Citizen Action; however, he said he values the role of independent scientific peer review and will honor the request to fund an independent peer review of the study.
"This is a positive step, the first step in 3 years that shows the DOE is willing to work with the public on this issue," said Sue Dayton, a co-founder of Citizen Action. "I have a great deal of respect for Mr. Arthur in making this decision which is the right decision."
Citizen Groups Ask DOE to Fund Independent Study of Albuquerque Toxic Waste Dump
Representatives from 13 citizen groups and neighborhood associations last week met with Department of Energy (DOE) officials to discuss the importance of independent scientific analysis and review of a study that will examine alternatives for a toxic waste dump known as the Mixed Waste Landfill (MWL) located at Sandia National Laboratories (SNL).
The study, known as a Corrective Measures Study (CMS), was ordered by the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) to assess closure options for the landfill including DOE's preferred plan: to leave the long-lived radioactive and hazardous waste in unlined pits and trenches in the ground on the outskirts of the City of Albuquerque. In addition to funding an independent CMS the groups requested that DOE fund an independent peer review of the completed study with members from Citizen Action, a 15-member coalition advocating for clean up of the landfill, involved with the selection of independent experts for the review. The DOE is funding a similar citizen review of a CMS for a toxic waste dump located at Los Alamos National Laboratory.
Although the CMS will undergo scrutiny by the NMED, many citizens have expressed concern that the study will be based on DOE policy rather than sound science. Under the DOE's new plan called "accelerated clean up" waste sites at SNL not cleaned up by 2006 will be placed under a low-cost program called long-term stewardship that uses signs, fences, and other restrictions to prevent people from being exposed to toxic waste. The program has been criticized by the National Academy of Sciences.
Jeanne Pahls, a teacher at La Mesa Elementary in Albuquerque who attended the meeting, left DOE a message: "I taught in a school near the Fernald Nuclear Power Plant in Cincinnati which released low levels of radioactivity into the area for 8 years. Two students developed brain tumors and one developed leukemia. In the future there will be children living close to this landfill containing long-lived radioactive waste. The DOE owes it to all of us to prove such tragedies will not happen again due to their neglect. The best thing DOE can do with its budget is to make independent peer review its top priority."
The groups expressed additional concerns regarding intrinsic biases on the parts of both the NMED and the DOE. The NMED recently signed a Letter of Intent supporting DOE's accelerated clean up program. The DOE lists their "preferred alternative" for the waste in the CMS work plan submitted to the NMED as the alternative with the "most value," meaning the plan that costs DOE the least.
"The long-term health of communities should be the most important aspect of any plan for toxic waste that will be hazardous for longer than we've been a species on this planet," said Sue Dayton, one of the co-founders of Citizen Action. "It's a reasonable request. If DOE realizes the importance of independent analysis it's time they demonstrated their willingness to work with members of communities who oppose this waste dump."
The groups' request was made directly to John Arthur, Manager for the Department of Energy Albuquerque Operations Office. Arthur stated that he would consider the request by citizens and announce his decision over the next few weeks.