Nuclear environmental group appeals EPA decision on LANL discharge

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By Tris DeRoma

A New Mexico environmental and nuclear safety organization is appealing a request rejected by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that could have made sampling soil at a dormant discharge area on Los Alamos National Laboratory property possible.

Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety filed an appeal with EPA’s Region 6 office March 9 to end Clean Water Act protection for a waste discharge pipe connected to LANL’s Radioactive Liquid Waste Treatment Facility.

The group wants the protection removed so the pipe and facility can be regulated under the Hazardous Waste Act.
If that happens, the soil from the pipe’s discharge would have to be tested for chemical and nuclear waste that was discharged from the pipe.

According to the organization, the pipe was active from 1963 to 2010. LANL’s facility stopped discharging liquid waste from the system in 2010. The facility instead began using an evaporator system to remove the water discharge.

Before 2010, the discharge went into Mortandad Canyon, which is the site of another discharge cleanup, when a plume of Chromium 6 was discovered in 2005.

“We have to protect this regional drinking water aquifer that EPA Region 6 has designated a sole source aquifer,” CCNS Executive Director Joni Arends said.

Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety is appealing the rejection to the EPA’s Environmental Appeals Board.

“It’s part of protecting our regional drinking water point,” Arends said. “The DOE (Department of Energy) has contaminated groundwater at every one of its sites… We can’t think that we’re exempt. We need to be as proactive as possible to protect our water here in the Southwest that’s subject to so many factors, more use, climate change, all of these different things.”

EPA Region 6 officials rejected the organization’s request, saying the argument that it gives LANL an exemption from waste treatment regulation is “outside the scope of our decision.”

EPA Region 6 Water Division Director William Honker explained the decision in an Aug. 16 letter addressed to the group’s legal representative.

“Whether or not issueance of NPDES (National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System) permit coverage might trigger the RCRA WWTU regulatory exemption has no bearing on EPA’s NPDES permitting decisions, which must be based on the requirement of the CWA and implementing regulations,” Honker said in the letter.