In opening testimony at a groundwater discharge permit hearing Wednesday, attorneys for a Los Alamos National Laboratory contractor said spraying the ground with water with remediated levels of chromium and RDX is environmentally safe. Chromium and RDX are known carcinogens. The chemicals are from contamination plumes found on the grounds of the laboratory in the 2000s.
N3B, the lab’s waste cleanup contractor, has a permit from the New Mexico Environment Department to pull contaminated water from the regional aquifer through treatment wells. The company then treats the water and brings it up to a level that is meets environmental standards. The company then sprays the water on lab property.
The hearing was ordered by the New Mexico Court of Appeals to allow residents and environmental groups and others a venue to ask for stricter standards. The water is only being sprayed on LANL property.
Attorneys for N3B at the hearing said the environmental safety requirements have already been met.
“What we’re talking about here is the application of water that meets applicable criteria at the time and place of discharge,” Montgomery and Andrews Attorney Louis Rose said at the hearing.
Rose said the spraying will serve to protect Los Alamos County’s part of the regional aquifer, where the chemicals came from.
“We believe that by discharging water onto the ground, we will protect groundwater that’s impacted by these (chemicals),” Rose said.
More than a hundred people representing various environmental safety groups like Tewa Women United, Amigos Bravos, Communities for Clean Water and Nuclear Watch also gave public opinion at the hearing.
“I call on the New Mexico Environment Department to require the Department of Energy, LANL, Triad (LANL management and operations contractor) N3B (contractor for the waste remediation) to fully demonstrate that their proposed action is safe and that it does not contribute to harmful, cumulative impacts on any form of life,” Tewa Women United member Jessica Luján.
Jay Coghlan, executive director of Nuclear Watch said at the hearing that with a new Democratic governor, Nuclear Watch is going to monitor the NMED’s process when it comes to deciding what other requirements should be brought into the permit.
“As a non-profit, we are strictly non-partisan. We do not engage in electoral politics, campaigning, anything. But there was an election yesterday,” Coghlan said. “And we expect a new environment department. We are going to assist the new environment department in forcing genuine, comprehensive cleanup at the laboratory.”
The hearing lasted two days and testifying by the public and witnesses called by N3B and The New Mexico Environmental Law Center. The Law Center, which is representing Communities for Clean Water and other groups, want N3B to do a full assessment on what sort of impact the spraying of the contaminants mixed with water will have on the environment and the public health.
Once the hearing ends the attorneys for both sides will file rebuttal testimony to counter the witness testimony, and the hearing officer will have 30 days to write a recommendation report to the environmental secretary on whether to grant stricter standards to the permit, or uphold the permit it as it is or reject it altogether.
The process is expected to take until January.