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Lab prepares for townsite cleanup

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By Roger Snodgrass

Los Alamos National Laboratory will begin a sensitive phase of its cleanup program early next year, involving non-laboratory property and areas where people live and work.While most of the work conducted under the requirements of a consent order with the state of New Mexico is on laboratory property, this phase of cleanup, known as the Upper Los Alamos Canyon Project, will include downtown residences and businesses in a 50-acre swath of the townsite.The Upper Los Alamos Canyon Project as a whole is related to some of the earliest activities at the laboratory. The characterization and remediation work that will be done is intended to bring the remaining contaminated or potentially contaminated sites in eight of the old technical areas into conformity with state and federal laws.Affected property owners have been contacted by mail and invited to attend a meeting Monday evening, according to a letter mailed by the laboratory Oct. 15. The owners’ written permissions will be needed in order for the work to take place on their property.Residents, business-owners and tenants in the area have been invited to attend a separate meeting on Wednesday, to become acquainted with the work plan and obtain additional information.Laboratory Project Leader Becky Coel-Roback said Friday that every effort would be made to accommodate the needs and schedules of the property owners, businesses, residents and traffic flow.“None of these sites would be complicated at all – if it weren’t for the residents,” said Coel-Roback. “We certainly aren’t expecting to find anything we haven’t seen.”The informational sessions this week are limited to owners, residents and businesses, at the two respective meetings, laboratory officials said, but an open, public meeting is planned for December or January.The Upper Canyon Project area contained 115 sites in all, based on previous investigations and analytical results. Of those, 54 sites were previously remediated or approved for “no further action.”Historic residues that remain to be investigated, according to the presentation that owners and occupants will view next week, include septic tanks, outfalls, sanitary and industrial waste lines, various drains, sites with potential soil contamination, landfills, sumps and a sewage treatment plant.According to the Investigation Work Plan approved by the New Mexico Environment Department, 34 of the remaining 61 sites fall with the townsite portion of the project known as Technical Area 01. The work plan describes TA-01 as comprising 50 acres on the mesa top “located on the southern portion of East Mesa,” and “roughly demarcated by Los Alamos Canyon (on the southern boundary), Central Avenue (on the northern boundary), 15th Street (on the Eastern boundary), and the western reach of Timber Ridge Road (on the western boundary). TA-01 was the center of numerous physical and chemical operations, including uranium and plutonium processing related to nuclear weapons research that started March 15, 1943 with the Manhattan Project. Some of these activities generated hazardous or radioactive waste, which was disposed of according to the standards of the time, the historical records indicate. Over time, the operations were relocated to other technical areas. Decontamination and decommissioning began in TA-01 in 1953 and lasted through 1976. According to the formal operational history in the work plan, a cleanup effort known as the Ahlquist Radiological Survey mapped and decontaminated the area, removing 15,000 cubic meters of materials by 1976. After that, the townsite began a rapid period of development and other decontamination evaluations and surveys continued.The current program is designed to remove as many remaining sites as possible from a list that was identified when the Environmental Protection Agency revised the laboratory’s Hazardous Waste Facility Permit in 1990.This involves sampling and laboratory analysis, which will in turn determine further action, if necessary. Each piece of the investigation is site specific, assessing the risk to human health and the environment, based on standards that vary according to use.The object, Coel-Roback said, is to achieve a residential standard, even if it is in an industrial, recreation or construction area.The project officials said they are committed to safety and active communication with the community.For more information contact Lorrie Bonds Lopez 505-667-0216 or e-mail envoutreach@lanl.gov.