LANL withdraws objection to Rio Grande monitoring criteria

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By The Staff

The state environment department announced Wednesday that Los Alamos National Laboratory had withdrawn its opposition to a proposal for a numeric water quality standards for monitoring and reporting radiological contaminants in the Rio Grande down stream from the laboratory.

The proposal grew out of what the New Mexico Environment Department called “concerns from the public about the health risks of radiological contaminants such as plutonium in water from the Rio Grande being diverted by the Buckman Diversion Project.”

These contaminants are known collectively as radionuclides and include isotopes of plutonium, uranium, strontium, americium and cesium.

NMED proposed the standards “to generate credible scientific data and to help the public understand the risks posed by those contaminants,” said New Mexico Environment Secretary Ron Curry in an announcement

A LANL spokesperson confirmed that the objection was withdrawn Wednesday during a public review of the state Water Quality Control Commission that met this week. The proposal was introduced earlier in the week.

In a prepared statement, Fred DeSoussa of the laboratory’s Communications Office said, “Assuming the Water Quality Control Commission adopts NMED’s proposal, it means the lab will continue to monitor for these substances and share the data with the public and with the NMED as we’ve done for years as part of our obligation to clean up legacy waste and reduce our environmental footprint.”

More than a 100 members of the public, NMED noted in their announcement, expressed written concerns about a lack of numeric data in the stretch of river that would receive discharges from LANL.

LANL’s objection appears to have been related to a specific legal issue, according to which Congress has assigned regulatory control over radionuclides to the Department of Energy.

Marcy Leavitt, the director of NMED’s Water and Waste Management Division, responded Friday, in answer to a reporter’s question, “The proposal does not entail NMED’s regulation of radionuclides. It is a proposal to allow NMED to release public monitoring and reporting information about lab contaminants in surface waters.”

The proposal was made as part of  the Water Quality Control Commission criteria, that is expected to be completed by Friday.

The Buckman project will deliver river water to be treated and used by residents in the Santa Fe area.