Pros and cons of burning

-A A +A

Los Alamos resident Stan Primak addresses lab’s open burn permits

By Carol A. Clark

Stan Primak and his family live in Los Alamos where he operates a small business. He attended Friday’s public hearing regarding the environmental department’s intent to deny open burn permits at Los Alamos National Laboratory.

“I am here today in my capacity as chairman of the Board of Directors of the Los Alamos Commerce and Development Corporation and Los Alamos Chamber of Commerce,” Primak said in a prepared statement.

“Our board represents about 300 member businesses and organizations throughout our community and area that employ thousands of citizens in Northern New Mexico. We support approval of the proposed hazardous waste facility permit for Los Alamos National Laboratory … we find that no reasonable rationale based on health, safety or environmental concern has been presented by the New Mexico Environment Department or any other party for denial of Los Alamos National Laboratory’s permit for the open burn units at TA-16.”

LANL operations and capabilities supported by the LANL open burn capability are important to the security and safety of our armed forces and the nation in general, he said, adding that the LANL operations and capabilities supported by the open burn capability are important to the present and future economy of New Mexico.

“For these reasons, we respectfully request that the New Mexico Environment Department approve the referenced permit to include the requested permission for the open burn units at TA-16-388 and TA-16-399.

The Chamber of Commerce made a petition available at its office during the last several weeks for people to sign, indicating their agreement with the chamber’s position. Primak fanned out several signed pages that were later presented to the committee at Friday’s hearing held at UNM-LA.

Española resident Ken LaGattuta is a member of the Northern New Mexico Citizen’s Advisory Board.

He said the citizens’ groups contend that Open Burning (OB), as practiced at TA-16, was unsafe to human health and to the environment.

“It appeared to this observer that there was some evidence of this, albeit very small,” LaGattuta said. “NMED seemed to me to be impressed by this evidence, although just barely. Nevertheless, NMED had proposed, prior to the hearing, to deny the OB permit for TA-16. This had been, they said, principally because of the volume of citizens’ protests they had received about this matter.”

NNSA/LANS has been fighting back, he said prior to the hearing, they induced both the Española City Council and the Rio Arriba Board of County Commissioners to write letters in support of OB operations at TA-16, he said.

“These letters, still available on NMED’s public Web site, are both very supportive of NNSA/LANS operations, generally, and of OB at TA-16, in particular. Also, in both of these letters, patriotic themes are struck with vigor,” LaGattuta said in an e-mail to the Monitor. “It is often fruitless to speculate about motivations. Nevertheless, one is inclined to

wonder about what is driving this campaign of NNSA/LANS to “have its way” at TA-16. Could it be that there is more going on at TA-16 than meets the eye? Why do the LANS managers maintain so doggedly that there are no materials contaminated by dioxins and furans being burned at TA-16? No one from either NMED or the citizens’ groups has claimed otherwise. And why do the NNSA bosses state so emphatically that there are no materials contaminated by radioactive substances being burned at TA-16?”

None of the other parties at Friday’s hearing has even hinted that such might be the case, he said, adding, “No one, that is, but Joni Arends of CCNS who, when queried by LANS staff if she would like to go on a guided tour of TA-16, asked, ‘can I bring my radiation detector?’”

Pete Sheehey, a candidate for the Democratic nomination for House District 43, also made a statement  at the hearing.

“I live in Los Alamos and have worked as a scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory since 1986,” he said. “I am not a spokesman for the lab; this is a statement of my own personal knowledge and opinion. At the April 13 hearing I stated: “The work done for our national security at LANL over the past 65 years has resulted in undeniable damage to the environment of Los Alamos and surrounding areas, and this damage must be repaired.”

As a New Mexico citizen and a candidate, Sheehey said he strongly supports the NMED’s responsibility to regulate the cleanup of past environmental damage, and to regulate present operations at LANL involving hazardous waste.

“As a citizen of the United States and a scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory, I also support the work done there for our national security,” he said. “Some of this work involves research into how to deal with emergency situations involving high explosives and high explosive residues, which can be extremely hazardous… The safest way to dispose of the hazardous material produced in this research and training is to move it as little as possible, and then burn it in the open with high temperature burners.”

NMED and LANL agree that this procedure produces almost no air pollution or additional health risk to humans, and little other environmental impact, he said.

“The work at LANL that requires open burning can save the lives of people who are asked to deal with hazardous situations,” Sheehey told the committee. “One of my duties is emergency response involving high explosives. It would be irresponsible for NMED to place me and my fellow responders, military and civilian, at greater risk by denying the lab permission to dispose of such waste in the safest and cleanest possible way.”

The NMED is now taking testimony from witnesses regarding the permitting issue. Los Alamos County councilors have testified and the council as a whole has voiced its support of LANL retaining its permits. The City  of Española and its mayor also have issued their support. Testimony will continue for at least the next week or two.