Committee Revisits Regional Water Issues

Los Alamos Monitor
August 15, 2006
Darryl Newman,

SANTA FE - Defining groundwater protection and seeking recommendations to the program in place at Los Alamos National Laboratory, was of particular interest to the public as a panel of the National Academies of Science convened Monday.

The committee invited perspectives from various environmental groups, as well as those from select governmental agencies, such as the Environmental Protection Agency, as part of a plenary session held at the Bishop's Lodge Hotel.

Citing what she referred to as rising amounts of chromium in the Buckman wells east of Los Alamos, Joni Arends of Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety repeatedly demanded that LANL comply with existing environmental laws.

"It's very basic and simple," Arends said. "Groundwater protection means protecting water supplies now and in the future."

Chromium was detected in the regional aquifer, not far from county drinking wells in early 2004, but went unnoticed until it was reported to NMED at the end of 2005. The chromium levels measured and reconfirmed earlier this year exceed state and federal drinking water standards. Arends also called for a change in how public meetings are carried out, including opportunities for the public to review ongoing groundwater monitoring practices.

"We want to be able to evaluate whether LANL is using good scientific practices in groundwater monitoring," she said. "We are having more and more problems with the credibility of the laboratory in its reporting." Delays in reporting its findings, such as chromium which was eventually reported in December 2005, do nothing to help maintain public trust, Arends said. "We still don't know where we are with the chromium," she said. "We still don't know where that plume is going, and there are several Los Alamos County drinking water wells nearby.

Mat Johansen, an environmental project manager for NNSA, said the current groundwater monitoring data supports the goals of the groundwater protection program.

"There has been demonstrated compliance with standards and regulation," Johansen said. "The first thing I look for is, are we meeting the consent form?"

Acknowledging a chromium plume in the regional aquifer, Johansen said "when and if" chromium does arrive at dangerous levels, certain measures can be taken such as wellhead treatments and taking the well offline in cooperation with Los Alamos County.

Richard Mayer of the EPA offered groundwater protection from a regulator perspective and stated that it should meet the appropriate cleanup standards as determined by a site specific risk assessment.

"Groundwater protection may be flexible in the cleanup standards according to the classification," Mayer said. "Typically, the longer the exposure time and higher the contaminant concentration, the lower the cleanup standard for groundwater."

It also is essential that the horizontal and the vertical extent of contamination be determined, he said. Monitoring wells are typically screened at the top of aquifers, where most contamination will be found.

Under recommendation by the EPA, boreholes drilled for the use of well construction should not include the use of bentonite or organic additives within the screened interval, Mayer said.

"Additives may be used in intervals above the target monitoring zone if telescoping casing construction is used and the hole is adequately cleaned before the final footage within the interval to be screened," he said.

Mayer continued that if drilling fluids must be used, the time between drilling and well development should be minimized if additives have been used in the screened zone.

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