NMED may rethink explosives burn ban

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By John Severance

The Los Alamos National Laboratory had asked New Mexico Environment Secretary Ron Curry to reconsider his ruling on open burning.

On Dec. 21, Curry did reconsider, according to a LANL spokesperson.

But at press time, it was uncertain what, if any, change has been made.

“We’re very appreciative that Secretary Curry granted our motion.  It allows us to continue our research on improvised explosive devices—research that saves lives at home and overseas,” LANL spokesman Fred DeSousa said.  

“We agree with the Secretary that allowing the Lab to submit a supplemental permit application is the best use of staff and taxpayer resources.

“We look forward to presenting the studies that clearly show our burning of high explosive residues in the two designated Lab areas poses no threat to human health or the environment. Protecting the environment and completing our global and national security missions go hand in hand, and it’s our commitment to Northern New Mexico.”

Because of the holiday, no one at NMED could confirm why Curry may be reconsidering his initial ruling. The last day of work for Communications Director Marissa Stone Bardino was Wednesday.

On Nov. 30, Curry issued his final ruling on LANL’s hazardous waste permit.

Curry granted the 10-year permit renewal, allowing storage and management of hazardous waste at certain lab locations, but denied the lab’s application for open burning of high-explosive wastes.

“I am satisfied that the permit will protect New Mexicans, LANL workers, and the environment and provide the transparency and accountability that residents deserve,” Curry said at the time. “I’m particularly proud of the unprecedented public involvement that led to this final permit.” After the ruling, LANL asked Curry to reconsider.

Among the lab’s arguments:
LANL claims it safely treats explosive debris or residue from its research by burning it at two secure, remote lab locations.
In a press release LANL claims:
• Burning is safer than transporting the now-unstable material on public roads for treatment elsewhere.
• Without a proper disposal path, the research cannot continue.
• None of the waste comes from the manufacturing of nuclear weapons.
• Years of publicly-available data show that the burning poses no human health risk and emit no harmful plume and it is rarely even visible.

According to the NMED website, it received numerous comments both for and against the department permitting the open burn process. Approximately 1,400 individuals registered their opposition to continued open burning, principally by signing petitions or submitting a form letter.

Approximately 140 individuals registered their support.

According to the site, the principal objection to open burning is that the use of unconfined burning to treat high explosives results in uncontrolled releases to the atmosphere. Citizens have cited unacceptable risks to wildlife, public health, and the environment. Others point out that open burning is particularly objectionable to persons with allergies or other sensitivities to airborne pollutants.

Those opposed to open burning suggest that alternative treatment methods to open burning exist that would be more protective of human health and the environment. These individuals generally support requiring the lab to utilize a confined burn facility as an alternative to open burning.