Date: October 20, 2009

Contact: Dave McCoy, Director

Citizen Action New Mexico:

(505) 262-1862


Public Interest Groups Win Changes to Long-Term Groundwater Monitoring at Sandia Lab’s Chemical Waste Landfill


Citizen Action New Mexico, an Albuquerque-based public interest group, along with other public participants reached agreement with the New Mexico Environment Department, Sandia National Laboratories, and the Department of Energy for changes to a Closure Plan for the Chemical Waste Landfill (CWL). Citizen Action’s request for a public hearing on the Closure Plan was avoided by agreement on new terms for groundwater monitoring at the CWL.

 The CWL at Sandia Labs received hazardous wastes from 1962 to 1986 and had to be excavated because a plume of Trichloroethylene (TCE) from the dump contaminated Albuquerque’s drinking water aquifer. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, TCE is “highly likely” to cause cancer in humans.

Citizen Action and Registered Geologist and hydrogeologist Robert Gilkeson recommended that the continuing plume of TCE at the CWL needs to be monitored with a capable groundwater monitoring network. The agreement calls for the installation of four new groundwater monitoring wells at the CWL and the use of low flow sampling methods. Three new downgradient monitoring wells are to be placed as near as possible to the northern and western boundary of the CWL. 

Citizen Action and Mr. Robert Gilkeson, in requesting a public hearing on the CWL closure plan, commented that the existing downgradient monitoring wells were too distant from the CWL boundary to comply with federal well monitoring requirements.

 A new upgradient background monitoring well will be installed at the CWL to replace the old background monitoring well that had a corroded carbon steel well screen. Carbon steel well screens have well known properties to mask the detection of contamination. Other monitoring wells at the CWL were also drilled using mud rotary drilling methods that hide contaminants of concern. NMED put out orders in 2007 that new wells shall not be drilled with mud rotary methods because the muds have properties to prevent the detection of contamination.

Mr. Gilkeson stated, “The efforts by the public were successful to enforce the monitoring requirements of the state and federal hazardous waste laws. The type of monitoring network and the sampling methods to be put into place at the CWL need to be established at many other locations at Sandia Labs, Kirtland Air Force Base and Los Alamos National Laboratory. We are well aware of the need for early detection of poisons that can contaminate the drinking water aquifer.”

 Dave McCoy, Director for Citizen Action, stresses that “The Mixed Waste Landfill at Sandia Labs received many of the same types of chemicals that were put into the CWL plus radionuclides such as Plutonium-239 and Americium-241. There are 720,000 cu ft of radioactive and hazardous waste in the shallow unlined pits and trenches of the MWL. No excuse exists for not excavating this much larger amount of contamination that is leaking to Albuquerque’s drinking water aquifer.” 

Citizen Action and other public comments for the Chemical Waste Landfill can be viewed on the NMED website here.