DOE Proposes Cleanup Plan for LANL Legacy Dump

DOE Proposes Cleanup Plan for LANL Legacy Dump

The New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) has asked the public to comment on a cleanup plan proposed by the Department of Energy (DOE) for a legacy waste dump at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL). The dump, named Material Disposal Area B (MDA B), is believed to contain both chemical and radioactive waste.

MDA B was in operation from 1945 through 1949 as a multipurpose waste dump for one of LANL's plutonium processing facilities at Technical Area 21 (TA-21). TA-21 was the site of chemical research for refining plutonium and plutonium metal production. MDA B is located just south of the Los Alamos townsite, across from the many businesses on DP Road.

The inventory of the waste is not currently known, however, a fact sheet distributed by NMED references historic records as a means to determine what is buried there. It is believed that approximately 90 percent of the waste consists of radioactively contaminated refuse, including "at least one truck, contaminated with fission products from the Trinity Test."

Employee testimony also indicates that there is chemical waste in MDA B, including mixtures of spent chemicals, ethers, solvents, corrosive gases and perchlorate. When MDA B caught fire in 1948, one employee observed, "In the fire, several cartons of waste caused minor explosions, and on one occasion, a cloud of pink gas arose from the debris in MDA B." The fire is believed to have been started by the spontaneous combustion of mixed chemicals and radioactive waste.

Under the tentative cleanup plan, DOE would remove all of the waste and contaminated soil in order to bring the site to the regulated residential level. This cleanup will take at least four years so as to be completed in 2010. The plan states that the cleanup will be conducted beneath a tent with constant internal air monitoring. DOE also intend to use the air monitoring stations located along DP Road to monitor for possible off-site releases.

Despite these statements, community groups are concerned that the air monitoring may not occur because of delays that DOE is having in obtaining the required permits to connect the air monitoring stations to electricity. These concerns are heightened by the announcement that Los Alamos County School Board intends to use the land adjacent to MDA B for residential housing. The School Board only recently informed NMED of their intentions. James Bearzi, head of NMED Hazardous Waste Bureau said, "it has been a struggle communicating with the county and the school board on this."

The proposed construction may begin as soon as April, 2007, less than four months away. Given the proposed time table, the residential construction and cleanup of MDA B, will over lap. NMED does not have the authority to stop construction on this land. If Los Alamos County issues building permits they will have some authority over the construction.

NMED is receiving public comment on this proposal. Comments may be addressed to John Kieling, Program Manager, at john.kieling@

This CCNS News Update is the first in a two part report covering the cleanup of MDA B. To read more click here.

Back to News Index