Date: February 15, 2009 Contact: Dave McCoy, Director

Citizen Action New Mexico (505) 262-1862

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Environment Department Approves of Defective New

Groundwater Monitoring Wells at

Sandia Lab’s Mixed Waste Landfill


Three new expensive monitoring wells installed at Sandia National Laboratories’ Mixed Waste Landfill for long-term monitoring are defective, according to Registered Geologist Robert Gilkeson, a ground water expert and geological scientist formerly employed by Los Alamos National Laboratories as lead consultant. The Mixed Waste Landfill contains an estimated 720,000 cubic ft. of radioactive and hazardous waste disposed of in unlined pits and trenches from 1959 to 1988. The waste lies above Albuquerque’s sole source drinking water aquifer.


According to Mr. Gilkeson, “The misplaced screens in the new monitoring wells have very low water levels right now that make them unsuitable for long-term monitoring because the wells will go dry in five to seven years.”


Sandia’s records document that the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) knowingly ordered the wells to be installed too deep with insufficient water standing in the wells for long-term monitoring.


To allow the new wells to provide water for more than twenty years, the well screens were made thirty feet long. However, the water level in the three wells is less than 8 feet. According to Sandia scientists, “At least 4 ft of standing water is required above the bottom of the well screen to properly purge and sample a well.”i The water table at the Mixed Waste Landfill is dropping approximately 0.5 to 1.5 ft per year because of municipal well draw down.


Mr. Gilkeson said, “The NMED ordered long screens in the three wells that allow contamination at the top of the aquifer to travel down in the open wells. This can contaminate the deep productive aquifer strata that produces the water tapped by city wells. This cross-contamination is prohibited by both state and federal law.”


Citizen Action Director Dave McCoy, an attorney, stated that “Under the Environment Department’s orders and federal law, the public was entitled to be formally heard and responded to before the Department made its final approval of these defective monitoring wells. The Department has probably wasted over a million dollars of taxpayer funds and left the Mixed Waste Landfill without any capability for early detection of contamination of the drinking water supply.”


Mr. Gilkeson said further, “In the past, the public was never informed that all of the groundwater monitoring data was defective. Now new monitoring wells are installed that will continue to provide invalid data. The remedy decision for a dirt cover to be placed above toxic wastes in unlined pits and trenches at the Mixed Waste Landfill has no scientific justification and should be delayed.”


Citizen Action and Mr. Gilkeson filed a complaint in 2007 with the Environmental Protection Agency that the Environment Department (NMED) was allowing the continuing use of defective monitoring wells that were built in the early 1990s. The complaint said that the unreliable data from those defective monitoring wells was used to make the decision to allow over 700,000 cubic feet of radioactive and hazardous waste to remain above Albuquerque’s drinking water aquifer.


The complaint by Citizen Action and Mr. Gilkeson to the EPA resulted in NMED requiring Sandia to install four new monitoring wells, three of which are defective and useless. The new monitoring wells are supposed to, but cannot, provide reliable data for early detection of contamination from the MWL dump.


In 2008, Citizen Action, a public interest group, used the Freedom of Information Act to obtain a list of 26 other Sandia defective groundwater monitoring wells, out of a network of 50 wells, that require installation of replacement wells.


NMED has paid no attention to the requests by Citizen Action and Mr. Gilkeson for public reviews of mistakes in the planning for the new well monitoring network at the Mixed Waste dump and dozens of other Sandia toxic waste sites. NMED is also keeping hundreds of technical documents secret from Citizen Action and the public.


Citizen Action and hydrogeologist Gilkeson have stated repeatedly that the wells installed at the Mixed Waste Landfill are constructed in a way that can actually “hide” contaminants and that the well monitoring network has never been capable of furnishing reliable monitoring data. This statement also applies to the new defective wells.


The NMED recently concluded that the identical type of soil cover intended for use at the Mixed Waste Landfill is not protective of groundwater at Los Alamos National Laboratory’s MDA H dump that has only 2 percent of the waste buried at the MWL dump.”


Gilkeson cited similar problems with the network of monitoring wells installed at waste sites at the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL). Recent reports by the Department of Energy (DOE) Inspector General, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the National Academy of Sciences support Gilkeson’s concerns for the monitoring wells at LANL. These reports give further weight to Gilkeson’s concerns for the monitoring wells at Sandia.


Citizen Action is a project of the New Mexico Community Foundation.

i Goering, et al., 2002, page 25