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P R E S S   R E L E A S E

Date: November 12, 2007
Contact Citizen Action: (505) 262-1862
Dave McCoy

Public Interest Group Files Counter Lawsuit Against New Mexico Environment Department
for Secret Documents

Citizen Action, an Albuquerque-based public interest group, today filed a counter lawsuit in the New Mexico Court of Appeals against the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) charging that the state violated the Public Information Act and Open Meetings Act by failing to provide secret reports about Sandia Laboratories’ Mixed Waste Landfill. The landfill, a Cold War legacy waste dump containing 700,000 cu. ft. of radioactive and hazardous waste, is situated above Albuquerque’s sole source drinking water aquifer.

“The New Mexico Environment Department has a habit of trying to quell dissent and debate, both inside and outside the Department, ” said Nancy Simmons, attorney for Citizen Action. “Now that the Attorney General has ordered them to provide heretofore secret documents to Citizen Action about what they’re doing or not doing to clean up the hazardous and radioactive waste dump at Sandia Labs, the Department has turned around and sued Citizen Action. This is apparently in an effort to get my client to back down. It won’t work. The citizens of New Mexico have an absolute right to observe their government in action. Citizen Action will go to court today to protect that right. The TechLaw reports they’re protecting from public view were paid for by tax dollars; we all have a right to see what we bought.”

The TechLaw reports were used by NMED to examine computer modeling showing that radioactive and hazardous wastes will leak into the groundwater at Sandia’s Mixed Waste Landfill.

Robert Gilkeson, registered geologist, stated that “NMED and Sandia have known since 1991 that they do not have a well monitoring system at the dump capable of detecting contamination. All computer models predict contamination will hit the groundwater. Sandia and NMED have not gone the next step to install monitoring wells at the hot spots. Instead of validating the models with real data, NMED and Sandia are manipulating assumptions in complex computer models to cover up a wrongheaded decision to leave these long-lived wastes in place under a dirt cover.”

The Department of Energy (DOE) describes the low cost dirt cover as “Environmental Stewardship.” However, a report by the National Academies of Science describes this stewardship as “providing unacceptable risks to people and the environment.” The report states:

  • “Stewardship (covering waste with dirt and instituting institutional controls) of waste sites will be difficult if not impossible to achieve.
  • “At many sites hazardous wastes will remain posing risks to people and the environment for hundreds or even thousands of years.
  • “No plan developed today is likely to remain protective for the duration of the hazards.”

Citizen Action’s Director, Dave McCoy, stated that “NMED apparently is unwilling to make decisions about the dump in the broad daylight of public scrutiny. With global warming and coming water shortages, DOE and NMED should protect Albuquerque’s groundwater by excavating the dump’s toxic wastes. They failed to order cleanup at Los Alamos and now there is plutonium in Santa Fe’s drinking water. They should pay attention to the public demand to clean up the Sandia dump with its plutonium, instead of shooting the messenger.”

Over the last year, Citizen Action filed agency complaints that the dump has monitoring wells that cannot detect contamination because they are out of place with damaged well screens in violation of federal law. Citizen Action discovered that no capable wells or soil gas monitoring systems were in place to detect contamination during Sandia’s recent use of heavy compaction equipment over fragile waste containers in the dump. Citizen Action found out from other information requests that: the installation of part of the soil cover proceeded without an approved plan; berms built to protect the soil cover construction were breached from storm water; the storm water pathway away from the dump is not analyzed and lab samples were lost. Citizen Action along with a coalition of other Albuquerque based organizations and individuals filed a complaint with the Environmental Protection Agency that NMED is shutting the public out of its right to review and comment on documents and decisions about the dump and the long-term monitoring network plan.

For more information contact Citizen Action New Mexico: (505) 262-1862 or visit the website at http://www.radfreenm.org.