Nuclear Laundry - Laundry News

Community Celebrates Major Environmental Victory as City of Santa Fe Temporarily Shuts Down 'Nuclear Laundry'

On May 14th 1996 the City of Santa Fe temporarily shut down the "nuclear laundry" operated by Interstate Nuclear Services (INS) based on evidence supplied by CCNS that the facility had been dumping radioactivity contaminated sludge into the City's sewers for years. The temporary cease and desist order issued by City Manager David Coss forbids INS from discharging waste water into the city's sewer system until it can prove it is no longer discharging contaminated sludge. The facility located at 1310 Siler Road, launders radioactivity contaminated clothing from Los Alamos National Laboratory and Colorado's Rocky Flats facility. Prior to the shutdown, the laundry had operated in Santa Fe for over 30 years discharging up to 25,000 gallons of potentially contaminated water per day.

Working closely with former INS Plant Manager Arthur Leroy Romero, CCNS obtained evidence that INS had falsified safety monitoring test results by diluting water samples and knowingly released contaminated sludge into the city sewer system.

The shut down of the Santa Fe facility could have national implications. UniFirst, INS's parent company, currently operates specialized facilities for nuclear decontamination in New Mexico, Mississippi, California, Washington, Hawaii, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Virginia, Georgia, Illinois and Iowa. CCNS has been in touch with citizen's groups in these states to forward evidence of corporate level safety violations we have obtained here in Santa Fe.

Instead of owning up to the problems which City and State investigators located with CCNS's help, INS started an aggressive public relations campaign, calling the investigation a "witch hunt" and suing the City of Santa Fe for damages. Despite the law suit, City officials have so far refused to lift the temporary cease and desist order. INS and the City are currently in negotiations. CCNS continues to urge the City not to permit INS to discharge-radioactivity contaminated water to the sewers.

New Mexico Environmental Department Concludes INS License Renewal Hearings

On August 14th, 1996 the New Mexico State Environment Department (NMED) concluded its public hearings on Interstate Nuclear Services (INS) license renewal application. The public hearings were ordered as a result of wide spread public concern about INS's " nuclear laundry" facility which CCNS brought to New Mexico Environment Department's (NMED) attention.

Since 1994 CCNS has spearheaded an inquiry into safety violations at the laundry. As part of its investigation, CCNS provided NMED and City investigators with evidence from former employees of persistent and intentional safety violations at INS. Based on these findings NMED initiated investigations at the INS facility. After completing their inquiries and verifying the information supplied by CCNS, the NMED licensing bureau changed its license recommendation to reflect most of the license conditions which CCNS had urged..

At the hearings, Bill Floyd, Program Manager of Licensing for NMED's Hazardous and Radioactive Materials Bureau (HRMB), testified that if not for the evidence brought to him by CCNS and former INS manager Arthur Leroy Romero, he would have relicensed the facility with no changes. As a result of CCNS and Romero's work, the HRMB has now recommended placing stringent conditions on the INS license including:

  • Instillation of new air and water equipment to replace the laundry's antiquated systems, most of which have not been upgraded since the 1960's;
  • Removal of contaminated underground tanks;
  • Limitations on the amount of radioactive material that can be stored on the premises and;
  • Increased employee safety training.

Because of testimony and documentary evidence that INS had cheated on previous water analyses and had lied to safety inspectors, CCNS also requested that the HRMB require independent water analysis for radioactivity contamination for at least a probationary period and to not allow the facility to operate until the new equipment was in place. The bureau refused this request and instead entered into an agreement with INS before the hearings based on the new license conditions.

As a result of the pre-hearing deal with INS, the HRMB did not present to the hearing officer the testimony of three former plant employees concerning repeated safety violations at INS. This omission was particularly disturbing because CCNS had brought this evidence to HRMB's attention and it had been verified by the State investigation. The bureau also did not introduce into evidence testimony of corporate level involvement in intentional safety violations nor some of the test results showing off-site contamination by INS. Throughout the hearings the NMED Bureau worked closely with INS attorneys to try and prevent hearing officer Tito Madrid from learning all the facts of repeated and intentional safety violations at INS.

As a result, CCNS attempted to play an active role in the license renewal hearings, presenting evidence of violations at INS which the HRMB had withheld from the hearing officer. In the future CCNS will continue its efforts to have HRMB officials or the Attorney General's office investigate why the HRMB withheld evidence from the hearing officer and tried to prevent citizens and former employees from testifying at these public hearings.
A recommendation on INS's license application will be made by Hearing Officer Tito Madrid by mid October. A final decision on the license renewal application will be made by the Secretary of the Environmental Department later this fall. Concerned citizens should write directly to New Mexico Environmental Department Secretary Mark Weidler at: P.O. Box 26110, Santa Fe, NM 87502