Regulators order halt to plume cleanup, say contaminants moving toward pueblo

“It’s been nearly 20 years since the chromium plume was discovered, yet DOE is still struggling with cleanup,”

The current pump-and-treat method is marginally effective at best and a process that actually could take centuries to complete at this pace, said Scott Kovac, Nuclear Watch New Mexico’s operations director.

The contaminated water should be removed, treated and taken to another site instead of injected back into the plume, he said.

By Scott Wyland, The Santa Fe New Mexican | February 22, 2023

State regulators have ordered the U.S. Energy Department to stop injecting treated water into an underground chromium plume by April 1, saying the method is pushing the contamination at the Los Alamos National Laboratory site toward a nearby pueblo and deeper into the aquifer.

The state Environment Department has called into question a pump-and-treat method the federal agency’s environmental management branch has used for years in an effort to remedy the mile-long toxic plume and keep it from spreading to the adjacent San Ildefonso Pueblo.

Regulators say the technique of extracting contaminated water, treating it and pumping it back into the aquifer is not remediating the decades-old plume or containing it but instead is stirring up the hexavalent chromium and pushing it toward the pueblo.

Hexavalent chromium is a known carcinogen. If ingested in drinking water, it can harm the liver, kidneys and reproductive systems, and some research indicates consuming large amounts over a long period can cause stomach cancer.

“DOE has not demonstrated … that injection of treated water has resulted in hydraulic control of the plume,” Environment Department spokesman Matt Maez wrote in an email. “NMED is concerned about threats to public health and the environment from the plume being pushed towards and onto San Ildefonso, instead of being mitigated by DOE’s current injection strategy.”

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