Lab touts pollution reductions

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By John Severance

POJOAQUE — Denny Hjeresen of the Los Alamos National Laboratory probably summed it best Tuesday night at the Cities of Gold conference room when in the middle of his presentation, he said, “we have the most sampled sites on earth.”
Hjeresen, the division leader for environmental protection at LANL, was describing how the lab is complying with a new EPA storm water permit that regulates runoff at several hundred Cold War-era environmental sites.
The lab was required to install and certify completion of baseline control measures at all 250 site monitoring areas (SMAs), which includes 405 total sites by May 1.
“It’s a thoroughly regulated site,” Hjeresen said. “We are doing a lot of work to protect the environment and in fact, we have at least 230 people work every day in environmental cleanup.”
The informational meeting about the permit came on the heels of the lab’s settlement with nine community groups and individuals that resulted in a dismissal of a 2008 environmental lawsuit last month.
The suit, filed by the Western Environmental Law Center in Taos, alleged that LANL violated its EPA Clean Water Act permit, and allowed storm water bearing contaminants from more than 100 legacy (Cold War era) environmental sites to run off at levels above standards —charges LANL denies.
Under the terms of the settlement, WELC agreed to drop the lawsuit in exchange for access to inspect certain sites, funding for technical consulting and a portion of legal fees.
The meetings, meanwhile, were scheduled as a condition of the permit. LANL is required to hold two a year with one being conducted before runoff season and the other will be held in a few months to outline results and discoveries after the season.
Hjeresen said the lab has made big strides in its environmental cleanup. In 2000, there were 143 different outfalls, compared to 17 in 2007 to 11 this year, and to six in 2012. Outfalls typically convey water from either a storm water treatment facility or storm water piping system to a point of discharge where water enters a natural water body or another drainage conveyance system.
PCB levels have gone from 1,200 in April 2000 to just nine in April 2011, Hjeresen said.
How does LANL prevent runoff?
There is erosion control where established vegetation, seed and mulch and channels and swales are used.
A technique used by the lab is selective juniper thinning, which promotes native grass growth, improves soil health and minimizes erosion. Wood mulch is an erosion control material used to prevent wind erosion and promote revegetation. Gravel mulch is used to increase cover, minimize erosion and reduce runoff. The rock berms function to spread flow, prevent erosion and trap sediments.
Some of the sediment control techniques include a rock check dam, which is used in small channels to dissipate flow velocity and reduce sediment migration and rock berms on flat ground help manage sheet flow, prevent erosion and guard against sediment migration. The lab also uses run-on and run-off controls with lined channels, earthen berms and vegetated swales.
Presentations in the meeting included Storm water Regulation by Gene Turner, the federal program director of the Los Alamos Site Office, Compliance Framework of the Individual Permit by Terrill Lemke, a LANL Group Leader and the implementation of the individual permit by Steve Veenis, a program manager at LANL.
“It was a good meeting,” said Joni Arends, the executive director for Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety. “I would have liked a little more input into the process of their meeting agenda but I think they heard us.”