LANL PROCEEDING WITH ACID CANYON PLUTONIUM SOIL CLEANUP AT LEVELS 10 TIMES HIGHER THAN OTHER LANL CLEANUPS
(Acid Canyon is a Los Alamos County park located between the skateboard park and the municipal swimming pool.)
Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) is scheduled to begin plutonium soil cleanup work in the South Fork of Acid Canyon (SFAC) next week. As we know, it is still monsoon season in Northern New Mexico and as a result, the risk of erosion is higher. Senator Bingaman and Representative Udall have been working to obtain the $2 million necessary for a complete SFAC plutonium cleanup. Work could begin October 1st, after the monsoon season ends.
The SFAC was the dumping grounds for treated and untreated liquid radioactive and hazardous
waste from Technical Areas 1 and
45, the first plutonium processing building and the waste treatment facility, located on the mesa above the canyon. In 1967, LANL demolished the buildings, cleaned up the mesa top and transferred the land to Los Alamos County. The canyon has since been a County park, with bridges over the stream channel and walking trails.
In early 1999, LANL found hot spots in the lower portion of the canyon measuring 7,780 picoCuries/gram (piC/g) of plutonium in the stream bed cuts. LANL averaged the plutonium contamination over the entire 1,000 ft. length of the canyon, even though most of the contamination is in the lower 650 ft. of the canyon. Then LANL averaged the contamination through the layers of the stream bed cuts. LANL is proposing to clean up the plutonium to an average of 280 piC/g over the entire length of the canyon. The first problem is that 280 piC/g is the horizontal and vertical average. The second problem is that 280 piC/g is 10 times higher than other LANL cleanups on LANL property. Thus the double standard.
From left: Proposed plutonium soil cleanup level for the South Fork of Acid Canyon, and uncontrolled county park 280 pCi/g. Next, proposed plutonium cleanup level for Rocky Flats, 35 pCi/g. Plutonium soil cleanup level for other LANL sites, 25 pCi/g . Finally, Livermore Park cleanup level, a mere 2.5 pCi/g .
The University of California (UC) made this plutonium mess. UC also made a plutonium mess at a Livermore, California park. But in California, if plutonium contamination levels above 2.5 piC/g are found in the soil, the Department of Energy (DOE) must clean it up immediately. The 2.5 piC/g is not an average, but the maximum permissible level for plutonium under Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Region 9 standards. UC made a mess here and in California, but the California cleanup level is over 100 times lower than the level LANL is proposing. Thus the double standard.
The South Fork flows into Acid Canyon proper, which then flows into Pueblo Canyon, and into Los Alamos Canyon. From Los Alamos Canyon, radioactive and chemical wastes flow into the largest fresh water artery in New Mexico, the Rio Grande.
Environmental Justice Issues: Within the 50-mile radius of LANL, nearly 54% of the population is minority (the highest of any DOE site) and 15% lives below the poverty line.
Questions to Ask: What makes the Los Alamos County park different from LANL property in terms of plutonium cleanup? Why is the proposed SFAC plutonium cleanup level 10 times the level LANL cleans to on its own property? Why is the proposed SFAC plutonium cleanup level 100 times what DOE has to clean up in California?
THINGS YOU CAN DO
Contact the following officials and tell them you live downstream and downwind from Los Alamos and that you want a complete plutonium cleanup in the South Fork of Acid Canyon. Demand protection of the air and water from any amount of contamination from past, present and future LANL activities.
1. Call LANL Director John Browne at 667-5101 or email him and ask him what's the big hurry? Tell him to put the South Fork of Acid Canyon cleanup on hold until the monsoon season ends. Tell him to wait until we learn whether Senator Bingaman has been successful in obtaining the necessary $2 million for a complete plutonium cleanup of the canyon.
2. Call Governor Gary Johnson at 827-3000 or email him by linking through his website at and tell him you want him to tell the Environment Department to do its job - to protect public health and the environment. Ask him why a Californian is provided more protection against plutonium than a New Mexican. Tell him you want a complete cleanup in the South Fork of Acid Canyon and that you want the Environment Department to take air, sediment and surface and groundwater samples during the cleanup and afterwards in order to track contaminant movement.
3. Call Environment Secretary Pete Maggiore at 827-2855 or email him and tell him you want the Environment Department to do its job - protect public health and the environment. You want the state Environment Department to take air, sediment and surface and groundwater samples during the cleanup and afterwards in order to track contaminant movement.
4. Call Senator Jeff Bingaman at 988-6647 or email him at and thank him for his leadership on obtaining funding for the cleanup and ask him to continue pushing for $2 million for a complete plutonium cleanup of the canyon during the Fiscal Year '02 budget process.
5. Call Representative Tom Udall at 984-8950 or email him and thank him for his leadership and encourage him to continue pushing for $2 million for a complete plutonium cleanup of the South Fork of Acid Canyon during the Fiscal Year '02 budget process.
6. Call Senator Pete Domenici at 988-6511 or email him and ask him to push for $2 million for a complete plutonium cleanup of the South Fork of Acid Canyon during the Fiscal Year '02 budget process.