Lab finds error in health study

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By The Staff

A 10-year quest to resolve environmental issues related to historic releases of hazardous materials at Los Alamos National Laboratory is reaching a conclusion, but the conclusion may be that further study will be needed.

The deadline for the comment period on the draft final report for the Center for Disease Control’s study ends Friday.

The Los Alamos Historical Document Retrieval and Assessment Project has been investigating LANL’s operations since 1943 to evaluate the health effects of releasing of toxic chemicals and radioactivity into the public sphere in the ensuing years.

Among the comments LAHDRA has received to date were several pages of discussion and technical notes from LANL’s review, including details related to airborne plutonium releases from the DP West Building during its early years of operation.

Fred deSousa, a laboratory spokesperson, said this morning that the lab was in accord with the process.

“The process is following the path it should,” he said. “The peer review panel is excellent. They have given us the opportunity to comment and we have done that.”

Within the comments, he pointed to a significant factual difference that the LANL reviewers called to the attention of the LAHDRA team.

 “We have reviewed the original data and memoranda and have identified an error in LANL documents from the 1950s,” according to the lab’s written response, providing an analysis of the air emissions after the error is corrected.

“The LAHDRA draft report also uses some more recent LANL documents in developing estimates of plutonium emissions,” the lab states. “We have reviewed these documents and have identified some assumption that are inappropriate.”

In the draft report one of LAHDRA’s conclusions was that LANL underestimated the emissions by a factor of 20, but LANL argues that a mathematical error resulted in a calculation that was 20 times too high.

In seeking input LAHDRA has asked for comments on the thoroughness or comprehensiveness of the information gathering effort of the project, among other requests.

The comments will be considered in evolving the final version of the document.

Another decision has to do with whether the report will be finalized and bring an end to the process, or whether investigators will proceed to a more detailed dose reconstruction for all releases or a selected number of releases that have been identified but not fully investigated in the report.

Comments can be e-mailed to rsbinfo@cdc.gov by Friday.