Feds Test Aquifer for Contamination of RDX

Feds Test Regional Aquifer for More LANL Contamination of High Explosives
Monday, October 22, 2018

Chemicals used to make high explosives have reached the regional water supply, the Los Alamos federal environmental manager discovered two years ago.

The contractor for the Department of Energy’s Environmental Management field office is drilling a second well to find out just how much contamination has occurred.

Officials expect to find out the results in November.

“When we drove (well) R-68 a couple of years ago, it was identified that there was actually RDX down in the regional aquifer,” Environment Department Los Alamos Manager Doug Hintze told the Los Alamos County Council Tuesday during a question-and-answer session about the recent activities of the field office’s new legacy waste cleanup contractor, N3B.

The DOE EM Department in Los Alamos has worked since 2015 on a plan for cleaning up a decades-old, concentration of RDX, a chemical used by the Los Alamos National

The plume was discovered on the property in the early 2000s.

Hintze told county council the chemical was discovered during the drilling of a monitoring well at the site of the plume.

The plume of RDX is located under Tech Area 16, located in the southwestern corner of the lab.

The revelation to council about RDX in the aquifer was made during a discussion on the drilling of another well, R-69.

The well will assist them in determining the extent of the contamination.

Maggiore asked Hintze what the remedy would be.

“R-69 is being completed right now,” Hintze said. “Samples will be available in November. Then, we can go back to the New Mexico Environment Department and figure out exactly what will be the remedy. We don’t have the answer quite yet because we don’t have the well drilled yet to figure out the extent.”

Maggiore urged Hintze to report as soon as possible after they get their results.

“This is everyone’s water supply, not just local. It’s regional. Your words, not mine,” Maggiore said. “It is unacceptable, absolutely unacceptable. It is a known carcinogen.”

On Wednesday, Council Vice Chair and Liaison to the Los Alamos Board of Public Utilities Christine Chandler also asked Department of Public Utilities Manager Tim Glasco for a report on the amount of RDX levels in the drinking water and its environmental impact at the monthly Board of Public Utilities meeting.

Glasco replied that they are always in close communication with LANL, and they had not yet heard anything.

“We get the groundwater monitoring data from the lab as a courtesy before it’s released to the public. They notify us if there is anything of note, and we have not been notified of any issues regarding RDX,” Glasco said.

Glasco said the data council heard at Tuesday’s meeting is data they may already know about.

“My assumption, based on that, is this is older data that we are already aware of,” Glasco, “We know that there is contamination in the area around (TA-16) and south of any of our county well fields. That’s what I’m presuming that this is what this is about, and we have known this for some time. We have not known of anything in proximity to our drinking wells, but we will check into that.”

Scott Kovac, operations and research director for the nuclear and environmental safety watchdog group Nuclear Watch, said the $220 million a year the Congress gives to the Environmental Field Office in Los Alamos to clean up legacy waste was not enough.

According to Kovac, it forces EM Los Alamos to prioritize cleanup projects. In this case, EM Los Alamos and its contractor, N3B, had prioritized the cleanup of a chromium plume on the property over the RDX issue.

“They’re focusing on the chromium plume at the expense of the RDX,” Kovac said. “EM-LA’s budget, which is $220 million this year, doesn’t allow them to do both. That’s where we run into problems.”

Los Alamos National Laboratory and the county have been monitoring water in the aquifer.

There are 12 drinking water wells in Los Alamos County. The state tests all 12 wells once a year for RDX, chromium 6 and other chemicals. Los Alamos Nartional Laboratory also tests the wells once a year.

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