ALBUQUERQUE — The tribal community of San Ildefonso Pueblo sits in the shadow of Los Alamos National Laboratory, one of the nation’s premier laboratories and the birthplace of the atomic bomb.
The tribe is on the front lines of a battle to rein in contamination left behind by decades of bomb-making and nuclear research.
Pueblo Gov. James Mountain says he’s encouraged that New Mexico regulators, under a revamped cleanup proposal, have identified as a priority a plume of chromium contamination at the tribe’s border with the lab.
San Ildefonso Pueblo, in northern New Mexico’s high desert, has a tribal enrollment of about 750. Its members are known for their artistry, creating jewelry, paintings, traditional black-on-black pottery and other works.
Groundwater sampling shows increasing chromium concentrations at the edges of the plume, indicating it’s migrating through an area considered sacred by the tribe and closer to the Rio Grande, which provides drinking water to communities throughout the region.
The plume has stretched about 1 mile into the upper part of the regional aquifer, and is about a half-mile wide and 100 feet thick.
It’s about a half-mile from the closest drinking water well.
“Without a doubt, it definitely raises concerns,” Mountain said.