Background Information

CCNS Appeal of the Open Burning Open Detonation Permits

Open Burn Permits Cancellation Letter

Depleated Uranium Factsheet

Clean Air Factsheet


Open Burning and Open Detonation Permits Canceled!

DOE and UC Request Cancellation of Open Burning Permits at LANL

The Department of Energy (DOE) and the University of California (UC) recently requested cancellation of two air permits to perform the open burning of depleted uranium, high explosives, diesel fuel, wood and other materials at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) from the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED). The permits were issued by the NMED Air Quality Bureau last March, but were appealed to the Environmental Improvement Board (EIB).

The cancelled air permits allowed LANL to conduct a maximum of 383 open burning activities each year, containing a total amount of 1,584 pounds of depleted uranium (DU), 3,717 pounds of high explosives (HE), 800 gallons of diesel fuel, 91,000 pounds of wood and other assorted materials, including Plexiglas, Lexan and natural and synthetic rubber.

LANL has been conducting open burning and open detonation of these types of materials in canyon bottoms and on mesa tops since they first began operations in 1943. Some of these activities involve experiments; others involve treating contaminated waste that cannot be moved due to danger of explosion.

Over the years, the federal and state governments have permitted these activities. However, in June 2004, the state prohibited the open burning of trash in burn barrels because of the amount of hazardous materials that are released, sometimes more than from a licensed municipal incinerator. Under these regulatory changes, LANL was required to submit to a permitting process that provided an opportunity for public participation.

Three citizen groups, Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety (CCNS), Tewa Women United and the Embudo Valley Environmental Monitoring Group, became involved in the permitting process. The groups then appealed the permits to the EIB. They also led a public postcard campaign against the permits. Concerned members of the public sent in over 700 postcards to Governor Richardson, Senator Bingaman, Representative Udall and NMED Secretary Ron Curry.

In November 2005, DOE and UC filed two motions to dismiss the appeal of the citizen groups. In early January, the EIB ruled in favor of the groups and the appeal was scheduled for a March 7th hearing in Espanola, New Mexico. The hearing may not be necessary because as LANL stated in their request, "[i]f, in the future, the Laboratory determines that activities at these sites are necessary, the Laboratory will apply to [NMED] for the appropriate approvals before such activities are initiated."

Activists are pleased that LANL has made what appears to be an environmentally responsible decision. Joni Arends, of CCNS, said, "This is a great victory for New Mexicans. We would like to thank all the individuals and businesses that participated in the postcard campaign. And we would also like to thank the decisionmakers for their commitment to public health and the environment."

However, activists are still concerned about the existing conditions of the test sites and the legacy of past experiments. Sheri Kotowski, of the Embudo Valley Environmental Monitoring Group, said, "Now we have to move forward and monitor the sites. We still need to determine what type of contamination is present and determine the appropriate methods for cleanup."

January 11, 2006