Contractor detects possible increases in mercury at well sites

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By Tris DeRoma

N3B, the contractor in charge of legacy waste cleanup at the Los Alamos National Laboratory reported to the Department of Energy Aug. 21 that there were slight increases in mercury at one monitoring well site and perchlorate at a separate well site. 

The wells are used to sample groundwater tables. The samples were taken in June. 

N3B officials noted a sample taken from well R-3 showed a .01 micrograms increase above the 2 micrograms per liter maximum contaminant level allowed by the Environmental Protection Agency, making the sample taken 2.01 micrograms per liter.

Mercury is often used in scientific research applications and is also a naturally occurring element found in rock, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Perchlorate is a chemical found in rocket fuel and munitions, but is also naturally found in high amounts in the southwestern United States, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 

At the well monitoring site, the spread of a chromium plume in Mortandad Canyon, well samples recorded perchlorate levels at 15 micrograms per liter, 1.2 micrograms over the allowed New Mexico Water Quality Control Commission standard. 

Officials from N3B said the mercury reading is likely an anomaly, and more samples have to be taken to make sure.

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