Los Alamos National Laboratory making progress in Groundwater Protection Program

roundwater is especially important in Northern New Mexico because of the region's limited water supplies. Seven of 12 drinking water supply wells in Los Alamos County are located on the LANL site. The San Ildefonso Pueblo also lies in the general path of groundwater and the few streams that flow from LANL to the Rio Grande. In 1995 New Mexico's Environment Department said the site's monitoring of groundwater was inadequate, and the laboratory's protection program was started in 1998. The Environment Department then issued a legally binding consent order in 2005, setting timelines and requirements for LANL's program.

Since the 1940s, LANL has disposed of its radioactive and other hazardous wastes on-site. Liquid effluents have been discharged into canyons, for example, while solid wastes have been buried, mainly on mesa tops. Discharge of liquid wastes, which LANL considers the source of chromium and other contaminants recently detected in groundwater, is controlled or has been practically eliminated, the report says. Solid wastes and contaminants, which the laboratory considers to have less potential to impact groundwater in the near future, have received much less attention. However, solid waste in some of the 25 material disposal areas, and plutonium and other contaminants that LANL has deemed immobile, could someday affect groundwater.

LANL should complete its investigation of historical information about these disposal areas, focusing on radionuclides and other chemicals that could affect human health and the environment, the report says. Field analyses should be conducted when historical information offers too few details to determine the quantities of contaminants or how much they have migrated.

LANL has made good progress toward understanding groundwater behavior beneath the site, but its work in geochemistry has not kept pace with developments in the science, the report says. More work in geochemistry will be central t

Contact: William Skane
The National Academies

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