State, feds will seek independent expert over chromium plume threatening San Ildefonso Pueblo

“Scott Kovac, Nuclear Watch New Mexico’s operations director, agreed getting a third set of eyes on the project would be helpful, especially if this expert can suggest an alternative to the pump-and-treat method.”

By Scott Wyland, Santa Fe New Mexican | November 1, 2023

Federal officials said Wednesday they were pursuing an independent expert to help resolve their dispute with the state on how to clean up a decades-old toxic chromium plume under Los Alamos National Laboratory that has worsened since pumping was shut down seven months ago.

State regulators in March ordered the U.S. Energy Department to stop extracting tainted water, treating it and injecting it back into the 1.5-mile-long plume to dilute the pollution, contending this approach pushed the contaminants toward San Ildefonso Pueblo and deeper into the aquifer.

At a Wednesday meeting, a federal cleanup manager reiterated the Energy Department’s position the pump-and-treat method was reducing the hexavalent chromium and keeping it from spreading to the pueblo — and with the work halted, the contamination is rebounding.

“We’ve erased a lot of the gains we’ve made over the last few years of operating [by shutting down],” said Michael Mikolanis, head of the Energy Department’s environmental management in Los Alamos.

The worsening situation increases the urgency to bring in a third party that can provide fresh analysis and a different perspective to help move the state and federal agencies past their impasse, Mikolanis said.

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