Lab cited for RACER violation

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LANL: NMED sent notice to LANL, alleging information was not sent to database

By John Severance

The New Mexico Environment Department sent the Department of Energy and the Los Alamos National Security, LLC a notice of violation of the June 14, 2007 settlement agreement.
In a letter dated June 3, 2011, the violation occurred when the respondents failed to enter environmental data, such as soil, rock and pore gas, from the Los Alamos National Laboratory every week into the Risk Analysis, Communication, Evaluation and Reduction (RACER).
In December, an audit was conducted of the RACER database and the auditors discovered that some available data had not been added. The lab staff informed the audit team that LANL had not been providing all new environmental media data to the New Mexico Community Foundation or adding the data directly to RACER each week since early September 2010.
On Feb. 14, 2011, the draft audit report was provided to NMED by the NMCF. And one of the key findings of the draft audit report was that the lab is no longer providing all new data on a routine basis to RACER. On March 15 at the RACER Project Steering Committee meeting, the lab acknowledged the audit conclusion is essentially correct and that the respondents failed to provide soils, rock and sediments data into RACER since September of last year.
NMED then independently verified that the recent data was not available in RACER.
The lab responded late this morning.
According to lab spokesperson Fred DeSousa, the lab added 1.7 million records to the publicly-accessible RACER database
“In late 2010, we discovered that one of four automatic, weekly data transfers to RACER had stopped working in September,” DeSousa said.  “The data in question contained results from samples taken from soil, rock and “pore gas”—the air or vapor present in tiny underground spaces, known as pores.    Once discovered, LANL developed methodology to transfer the missing data manually to RACER and continues to do so weekly.”
 DeSousa said the missing data accounted for 4 percent of the 10 million records sent to RACER and that transfers of air, water, and other monitoring data continued uninterrupted.
DeSousa indicated a new database system is currently being developed jointly with NMED and the NMCF, based on lessons learned from the first version of RACER.
“It will eliminate the data transfer issues by allowing regulators and the public direct access to the LANL database via a “cloud computing” system— a secure, off-site system that uses multiple computers to manage massive volumes of data,” DeSousa said.
“The improvements will result in better, faster, and more efficient organization of the data, as well as a map-based information system on cleanup and environmental sites within LANL’s 37-square-mile boundaries.”
The first phase of the system will be complete by Oct. 1.
The letter, meanwhile, which was addressed to George Rael of the Los Alamos Site Office and Chris Cantwell of Los Alamos National Security LLC, said NMED may assess a civil penalty of not more than $25,000 for each day of noncompliance with a compliance order.
The letter says, “In this matter, the Department is proposing a civil penalty for these violations in a settlement offer, which will be sent under separate cover. NMED also requested a meeting with DOE and the lab in regards to negotiating a settlement relating to the Notice of Violation.
Lawyers for NMED and the lab have met and are working on a settlement negotiation.
Also Wednesday, Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety (CCNS), represented by the New Mexico Environmental Law Center (NMELC), has been granted its motion in U.S. District Court in Albuquerque to intervene in appeals filed by the DOE and LANS, LLC regarding a 10-year hazardous waste management permit at LANL.
The permit was issued by the NMED Secretary Ron Curry last year to the appellants. The appeals challenge certain aspects of the permit.
  “We expected no less,” says Jonathan Block, NMELC Staff Attorney. “CCNS was a dynamic party in the NMED hazardous waste permit hearings for LANL beginning in 2007, and has an important role to play in the federal court case.”
  “The protection of our communities, water, air and soil from LANL pollutants is of upmost importance to CCNS,” says Joni Arends, CCNS Executive Director.  “Our appeal supports the NMED position that it has the authority to regulate the entire 63-area ‘Area G’ waste storage site. We oppose, however, the NMED position that allows LANL to use the antiquated open air burning of hazardous waste as a disposal method. CCNS also opposes the NMED position that the groundwater monitoring is adequate.”
 The permit was issued by the NMED on November 30, 2010 after three and a half years of public process.  There were several versions of draft permits, along with opportunities for public comments, 40 days of negotiations between the parties, and a 15-day public hearing in Santa Fe, Albuquerque, Ohkay Owingeh, Pojoaque, and Los Alamos. The Los Alamos National Security, LLC, “co-operator” of LANL, opposed the CCNS motion to intervene.
  “Our clients will defend the interests of all people in the vicinity who are concerned about nuclear safety and want a final, safe and effective clean-up of the highly toxic waste disposed of all around the LANL site,” says Block.
  Negotiations are scheduled to begin on Aug. 24 before a Federal District Magistrate Judge.