State seeks input on LANL’s hazardous waste

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Clean-up order > NMED begins process of updating plan to deal with hazardous waste sites around Los Alamos

By Tris DeRoma

New Mexico Environment Department officials from the department’s Hazardous Waste Bureau met with the public Thursday about waste cleanup at the Los Alamos National Laboratory.
The 2005 Compliance Order of Consent defines how hazardous waste areas at LANL are conducted. It was agreed to by the New Mexico Environment Department, the U.S. Department of Energy, the Regents of the University of California and LANL and is now under review.
NMED and other partners agree that through data gathered during the initial stages of the cleanup, changes could be made to make hazardous waste cleanup safer and more efficient.
NMED is in the process of gathering public comments about those changes, according to NMED Secretary Ryan Flynn.
“What we’re trying to do here is to take the consent order, which has been effective in certain areas, and try to make it more effective, building upon a decade of experience that we now have,” Flynn said. “Time changes, technology evolves, and you learn more as a regulator how to more effectively control pollution at a facility.”
The original 2005 order predicted that the entire cleanup would be completed by 2005, but that was before the underground chromium plume was detected on LANL property and other complications developed.
“A groundwater contamination site certainly added a degree of complexity to this challenge that we weren’t aware of in 2005,” Ryan said.
Funding, and the issue of funding has also been a factor, Ryan said, something that his office has been critical of as time went on.
“We’re in a budget situation at the federal level that I think is dysfunctional to put it mildly,” he said. “There’s plenty of blame to go around for why we’re here but we on the ground who are impacted by this federal budget have to still move forward and do our jobs.”
Deadlines for project completions need to be tightened up, and the process for more efficient transitions from investigation and assessments to cleanups need to be improved in the consent order. Revisions in the consent order also call for improvements to the annual planning process and improvements in data quality objectives.
“We’re trying to, in this new document, take advantage of the investigation and characterization work we’ve done, and turning that into more active remediation at the facility,” Flynn said.
In the original order, at least 31 areas have been targeted for clean up, including “Area G” on Pajarito Road and Sandia Canyon, the site of a chromium plume that has been found in the groundwater.
At the meeting, Kathryn Roberts, NMED’s resource protection division director, assured the audience that the NMED has been and will continue to monitor remediation efforts by the DOE, even the ones that have not necessarily been approved by the NMED.
“It’s really important to know that for accelerated and at-risk work that NMED may not approve the work prior to them going out and conducting it, but we absolutely have the final say on whether or not they completed it efficiently and actually cleaned it up to what the objective is in that document,” she said.
The public comment period will end on May 16, and a report that factors in the all the public comments will be presented at a Northern New Mexico Citizens Advisory Board meeting May 18 at the Cities of Gold Hotel in Santa Fe. To comment, email kathryn.roberts@state.nm.us. Roberts is the Resource Protection Division Director at the NMED.
At the end of the meeting no one from the audience had any questions for the panel.
However, Flynn encouraged people in the audience to contact Roberts by email, and to get their own copy of the consent order  at the NMED website at env.nm.gov/hwm/lanlperm.html.
“We really want to be responsive and we’ve received some really good ideas in all different ways,” Flynn said to the group. “From our perspective, this is based on 10 years of experience from the department, how we think we can improve this process. But, we recognize that we have one perspective, and we can learn from other perspectives and ideas.”