Health study meets on draft final report

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By Roger Snodgrass

A decade-long study by the Centers for Disease Control is drawing to a conclusion.

The Los Alamos Historical Document Retrieval and Assessment (LAHDRA) project has issued its final draft report and has announced that the study team will hold a public meeting on June 25 to discuss the project status, the draft report and findings and the peer review process that is now underway.

Among the report’s findings is that early airborne releases of plutonium were significantly underestimated. Releases from the DP West Site “for 1948-1955 alone were more than 100 times the total reported by the lab for operations before 1973,” the report states and concludes that airborne plutonium releases warrant further evaluations.

Similar issues are raised concerning airborne beryllium releases, public exposure during the Trinity test, airborne uranium releases, and tritium releases before 1967.

In a key sentence of the draft findings, the study team writes, “Based upon the findings of the LAHDRA project, CDC and other interested parties will judge if the available information indicates that past releases of any materials could have been sufficiently high that detailed investigation of past releases and public exposures is warranted, and if it appears that sufficient information exists to support detailed investigation if the requisite funding could be made available.”

The project began in early 1999, as a 3-year $4.2 million effort to review historical documents about off-site releases of hazardous chemicals and radionuclides from Los Alamos National Laboratory going back to the earliest days of the Manhattan Project in the 1940s.

“We are asking the public to follow us through the process, share information with us and ask the questions,” said Thomas Widner in an announcement at that time. Although a number of difficulties including the Cerro Grande Fire delayed the early years of the project, Widner has continued to manage the project for the independent contractor ChemRisk through the years.

A section of the draft Executive Summary spells out some of those difficulties, including:

• Security stand-downs and the fallout of security incidents involving LANL staff;

• increased escorting requirements and limitations on number of analysts that could work concurrently;

• calls by LANL staff for review of documents by titles alone;

• establishment of seven categories of information to be withheld from LAHDRA analysts;

• establishment of an appeal process for use when potentially relevant information was withheld,

• arranging for access to documents at LANL generated by a foreign government (the UK),

• a significant backlog of selected documents awaiting classification review and public release,

• limited resources (staffing) at repositories impacting ability of LAHDRA analysts to be present,

• initiation of pre-screening documents by LANL legal staff for privileged information.

The project held its first public meeting on Feb. 23, 1999. After a partial completion of work under the first contract, a new contract extended the study. Since the beginning there have been 15 public meetings.

Among its accomplishments, the study has made available to the public a much greater quantity of original records and other material than has been accessible before, along with a substantial body of history and analysis about the health effects of hazardous releases from the laboratory.

Public meeting notice:

When:  Thursday, June 25, 5-7 p.m.

Where: The Hilton Santa Fe at Buffalo Thunder, 20 Buffalo Thunder Trail, 15 minutes north of Santa Fe on U.S. 84/285 (Pojoaque Pueblo area) at Tewa  3. Call (505) 455-5555.

Further information:

The report can be downloaded at the project’s Web site at www.lahdra.org/pubs/pubs.htm

For those without Internet connections, you can also request a CD or paper copy of the report by contacting Tom Widner as twidner@chemrisk.com  or by calling 1-888-ChemRisk ext. 3207 (that’s toll free, 888-243-6747 ext.3207) or by calling 415-618-3207.