State environment dept. to fine LANL for hazardous waste violations

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By Tris DeRoma

The New Mexico Environment Department is expected to fine the Los Alamos
National Laboratory for exceeding state and federal time limits for storing
 hazardous waste. 

“Specifically, LANL had stored (two) hazardous waste containers over the
 90-day storage time limit in central accumulation storage areas, and had
 stored (three) hazardous waste containers over the 1-year storage time 
limit in permitted units,” Hazardous Waste Bureau Chief John Kieling said
 in a March 15 letter to LANL officials.

With the 90-day storage time limit violation, NMED claims the lab stored 
two containers full of hazardous waste 20 days past the 90-day time limit
 before notifying NMED.

Penalties for each violation could be as much as
 $10,000 a day for non compliance of New Mexico’s Hazardous Waste Management
regulations and of the Resource Conversation and Recovery Act Hazardous
 Waste Operating Permit at Technical Area 55.

Technical Area 55 is houses LANL’s plutonium processing facilities.

Kieling told LANL officials in his letter, the state intends to impose
“Due to the nature and severity of the violations listed above, and LANL’s
past history of noncompliance with (New Mexico environmental protection
 regulations) NMED will propose a civil penalty for these violations in the
Notice of Proposed Penalty letter…,” Kieling said.

A LANL spokesman said LANL will continue to observe the rules of the
 federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act and comply as best it can.

“The laboratory’s constant emphasis on improving our performance in meeting 
RCRA (Resource Conservation and Recovery Act) requirements has been showing a positive trend,” said spokesman Matt Nerzig. “Overall, this year’s annual RCRA inspection by the State shows improvement in our performance from past years, as evidenced (by) fewer non-compliances. That said, we continue to strive for the best possible compliance record particularly when it comes to protecting the environment, the public and our workforce.”

“In November, we caught numbering errors on two hazardous waste drums that we self-reported," Nerzig said. "In the interests of safety, we took the precautionary measure of pausing certain shipping until we were confident that we had fully addressed this administrative issue.“

NMED Spokesperson Allison Majure said once a settlement is reached with the Los Alamos National Laboratory, information will be available to the public.

“NMED will propose penalties for these violations which will be the subject of a forthcoming, attorney-client privileged penalty letter that is a standard part of the settlement process,” Majure said. “Per established protocols for public transparency, once settlement information is finalized, NMED makes the information available to the public.”

Greg Mello, executive director of a New Mexico environmental and nuclear safety organization called the Los Alamos Study Group, said the public has a right to know not only the final outcome of negotiations between the NMED and LANL, but also the process of how the two parties arrived at a settlement.

“Why should that be normal practice for what is in essence, a secret deal worked out,” Mello said. “We don’t know whether this is a small thing, or, what is often the case, a small thing that’s the tip of a larger iceberg. We don’t know if there’s a big issue behind this or not. There could be an issue of great public importance that we’re not seeing here, because we aren’t seeing the details.”