NMCF’s removal raises ruckus

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Database: Activists find themselves on both sides of issue

By John Severance

Some activists are none too happy that the New Mexico Community Foundation has been asked by the Department of Energy to relinquish its responsibility as outreach coordinator and database manager of the Intellus NM Project.

But in the ultimate of ironies, Greg Mello of the Los Alamos Study Group, who has filed two suits against DOE in relation to the CMRR project, oddly lands on the side of the government regarding this issue.

“We never thought it was a good idea for the New Mexico Community Foundation (NMCF) to undertake the RACER work, and I spent a couple of hours with them about eight years ago trying to talk them out of it,” Mello said. “To our eyes, there was no reason for NMCF to do that work and many strong reasons not to do it. We thought NMCF should stick to its primary mission rather than undertake work for LANL’s operating contractor as an operating foundation on contract.”

Mello said the RACER program at NMCF set up serious conflicts of interests with NMCF grantees then-current and prospective and the RACER program led to “community meetings” in which NMCF “was used as a forum for NMED and LANL regulatory issues — again inappropriately in our view.”

Other activists, though, were unhappy there no longer would be a third party with NMCF out of the picture in regard to environmental data.

“Nuclear Watch New Mexico believes that LANL taking over the environmental database Intellus is directly contrary to the Chromium Settlement Agreement which explicitly required that its predecessor ‘RACER’ be managed by the independent New Mexico Community Foundation,” NWNM director Jay Coghlan said. “For LANL to run an environmental database for the public on lab contamination invokes the proverbial fox guarding the chicken house.

“Intellus is cumbersome and difficult to navigate, definitely not ready for public prime time. But most importantly, we question the assumption that the agreement is about to be prematurely closed, an issue that we will directly take up with NMED’s David Martin.”

Registered Geologist Robert Gilkeson, who does a lot of work with the Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety in Santa Fe, was very disturbed by the news because he depends a lot on the database while doing research.

“The recent change from RACER to the very cumbersome Intellus has placed a new, very large burden on NMCF to provide the public with the necessary tools to efficiently gain access to environmental data. I regard the current status of Intellus as a ‘Titanic-class shipwreck’ in the fog that is the cloud-based Intellus software,” Gilkeson said.

“I am a technical person with more than 40 years experience with environmental data. At this time even I need assistance from NMCF to ferret out environmental data from Intellus.”

Gilkeson said that LANS’ termination of NMCF as the independent source of environmental contamination data is irresponsible especially when it comes to the Hexavalent Chromium plume.

“Termination of the NMCF contract increases the burden on the public to provide accurate comment on the selected remedy for the chromium plume,” Gilkeson said.

“Further, my preliminary review of the large Hexavalent Chromium plume is that the current investigation is not adequate to select the remedy. Recently installed monitoring wells at locations believed to be at the boundary of the plume measure Hexavalent Chromium levels of 1,200 ppb. Hexavalent Chromium is the most toxic form of chromium. For comparison, the EPA Drinking Water Standard for total chromium is 100 ppb.”

LANL and the New Mexico Environment Department are currently negotiating the closure of the 2007 Settlement Agreement and Stipulated Final Order, also known as the Chromium Settlement, which required LANL to turn their environmental data over to an independent manager. The closure of this agreement allows LANL to manage their data without oversight or involvement from a third-party.

NNSA spokesperson Toni Chiri said her office would have no comment on a possible settlement.
Spokesperson Jim Winchester, meanwhile, said the NMED office may make a comment on the issue next week.

As far as questions concerning the NMCF no longer acting as a third party, Winchester referred all inquiries to DOE and LANL.

Pete Maggiore, assistant manager, LASO Environmental Projects office, issued a bulleted statement concerning the NMCF last week, saying the decision was an economic one and that Intellus NM is a major improvement over its predecessor called RACER.

“With Intellus and the automatic uploads, the public sees what our scientists see,” Maggiore said. “It’s because data is now directly and automatically uploaded that it no longer needs an entity to “administer” it. We appreciate the efforts of the Community Foundation to get to this point. The Intellus database is indeed more user-friendly and more comprehensive. It contains more than nine million data records. We’re pleased that the database has made environmental data more accessible to the public.”