Lab releases 2010 environmental report

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LANL: Officials say waste generation has been reduced

By The Staff

The Los Alamos National Laboratory recently released its 2010 Environmental Report.
The annual update is 412 pages and the Los Alamos Monitor did a quick review and here are some of the highlights.


LANL met six high-level environmental stewardship commitments during fiscal year (FY) 2010.
• Increase public outreach events for environmental projects
• Maintain 98 percent and higher successful environmental program self-inspections
• Ensure compliant implementation of waste and air quality permits
• Improve transuranic (TRU) waste shipments to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in Carlsbad
• Complete funded New Mexico Environment Department’s (NMED’s) Compliance Order on Consent (Consent Order) deliverables
• Implement a program for assuring that wastes are managed prior to employee departure from LANL
In the report, lab officials say that waste generation in FY 10 was reduced in all waste categories with the exception of routine hazardous waste.

Lab officials also claim that they met six of seven waste reduction awards and they won six Pollution Prevention Awards from the NNSA.

When it comes to radiation exposure, the lab claims there were no detections of radionuclides at Pueblo de San Ildefonso and regional locations.

The largest off-site ambient air measurements of radionuclides occurred adjacent to the environmental restoration work at TA-21, MDA B. These concentrations were less than nine percent of the EPA 10-mrem public dose limit.

On the groundwater front, LANL installed two perched intermediate groundwater monitoring wells and 12 regional aquifer monitoring wells. Eight regional wells were installed to monitor for potential contamination from MDAs in TA-54 and to support Corrective Measures Evaluation (CME) reports for MDAs at TA-54.

LANL performed a review of some previous groundwater sampling results for plutonium-238 in the Buckman Well field. In 2006, one plutonium-238 detection was identified for a sample from Buckman Well #1. Upon additional review, this analysis was found to be incorrect; plutonium-238 was not detected in this 2006 sample. The information was updated in the RACER database.

The report goes on to say that one regional well was installed in Mortandad Canyon as part of the ongoing chromium investigation. One intermediate well was installed as a hydrologic test well to support the TA-16 260 Outfall corrective measures implementation.

Since the early 1990s, the lab has significantly reduced both the number of industrial outfalls (from 141 to 12 active) and the volume of water released (by 80 percent).

LANL, meanwhile, continues to investigate the hexavalent chromium found at up to 20 times the state groundwater standard in the regional aquifer under Mortandad Canyon and nearby Sandia Canyon.

One new regional well north of the LANL/Pueblo de San Ildefonso boundary measured chromium above the state groundwater standard and one regional well was installed in Mortandad Canyon as part of the ongoing chromium investigation.

In the report, the lab says the overall quality of most surface water within the Los Alamos area is very good.

The report says, “Of the more than 100 analytes measured in watersheds across LANL, most are within normal ranges or at concentrations below regulatory standards or risk-based advisory levels.

However, nearly every major watershed shows some effect from lab operations.
• The highest concentrations of LANL-derived radionuclides in surface water samples were measured in Acid, DP, Los Alamos, and Mortandad Canyons. All measurements are consistent with previous years and are below screening levels.
• The highest concentrations of radionuclides in sediment were obtained from several locations in Acid, Los Alamos, and Mortandad canyons below present and former outfalls. Results and are consistent with previous years.
• PCBs are measured in storm water in Los Alamos, Sandia, Mortandad, and Pajarito canyons above standards. PCBs are also detected above standards in runoff from the Los Alamos town site and in background areas, the latter derived from regional atmospheric fallout.
• LANL completed sediment control projects in Pueblo and DP canyons in 2010 to reduce the transport of contaminated sediments.
• The flux of LANL-contaminated sediments into the Rio Grande is small.
• Concentrations of radionuclides in soil samples from TA-54, Area G, are above background and less than industrial screening levels.
• Uranium concentrations in soils at DARHT have decreased since the laboratory began conducting high explosives test shots in containment vessels in 2007.

Accomplishments in 2010 include the submission to NMED of initial or revised CME reports for TA-54, MDAs G, H, and L, completion of the D&D of buildings at TA-21, commencement of the TA-21, MDA B, excavation project, the completion of the remediation and investigations required by the TA-16 260 Outfall Corrective Measures Implementation (CMI) plan, and the completion or continued investigation of TA-50, MDA C, TA-49, three canyons, and eight aggregate areas.

The final buildings of the TA-21 plutonium processing facility were decontaminated and demolished during 2010. Excavation of MDA B began in June 2010.

During 2010, environmental restoration activities collected samples at more than 1,600 locations and requested 850,000 analyses or measurements on these samples.

In 2010, LANL submitted 22 new or revised investigation work plans and 37 new or revised investigation reports to NMED. NMED also approved a total of 11 plans and 14 reports, most with modifications or directions. In addition, LANL submitted 35 periodic monitoring reports on periodic sampling activities, 53 plans and reports on groundwater monitoring well activities, and 24 miscellaneous reports or plans.
NMED approved 34 SWMUs or AOCs as complete, requiring no further remedial actions.

The lab claims that its impacts on the Rio Grande are small and that it reduced environmental risks during 2010 though reduction in TRU waste inventories, D&D of plutonium processing buildings at TA-21, installation of sediment control structures, and ongoing wildland fire tree thinning.

“In summary, any LANL contributions to the Rio Grande are masked and overwhelmed by contaminants from upriver sources,” the report states. “With the exception of mercury and PCBs in fish, derived from non-LANL sources, the levels of contaminants in the Rio Grande are below all levels of concern.”

The lab said it also performed a review in the Jemez Mountains and Valles Caldera.

“The laboratory is committed to reducing environmental hazards and the associated risk to people and the environment. Over the years, the laboratory has decreased its release of materials into the environment and has reduced the amount of legacy contamination,” the report read.

As part of the Laboratory’s Wildland Fire Management Plan, the Laboratory performed tree thinning operations on 380 acres of LANL property.

“These mitigation actions were extremely important in minimizing the amount of LANL lands burned by wildfire during the 2011 Las Conchas fire,” the report said.