Clearing Up Our Toxic Dump
A few clarifications regarding Christie Chisholm's well-researched editorial, "Covering Our Tracks" in the Oct. 20 issue of the Weekly Alibi.
While Ms. Chisholm's article states the Mixed Waste dump (and I use the term "dump," because it is technically not a landfill) contains an estimated 73 cubic yards of transuranic (TRU) radioactive waste, the TRU waste constitutes only a small portion of the actual 100,000 cubic feet of radioactive and hazardous waste disposed of in the dump over a 30-year period from 1959 to 1988.
Adam Rankin, spokesman for the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED), is correct when he says there's no requirement in the state's Hazardous Waste Act that requires the TRU waste buried in the dump to be excavated. Of course there's no requirement because the Hazardous Waste Act regulates hazardous waste (i.e., chemicals and solvents), not radioactive waste. The requirement for TRU waste cited in the article is a requirement contained under the federal EPA guidelines for appropriate disposal and containment of TRU waste. The guidelines also state that TRU waste must be disposed of in a deep, geologic engineered repository to protect human health over the long-term.
Another faux pas is the statement made by Dick Fate, Project Manager for the Mixed Waste dump, who is quoted in the article as saying the site was created in the '60s because the groundwater was located 500 feet below the surface, and they were "careful not to place any liquids there."
If the waste technicians at Sandia took great care to not dispose of any liquids in the ground, then why did they create another dump five years later, a stone's throw from the Mixed Waste dump, christened as the Chemical Waste Landfill? This dump was no different than its sister dump, the Mixed Waste Landfill, where an array of toxic waste was haphazardly tossed into unlined trenches.
As the article states, the Chemical Waste Landfill ultimately contaminated the groundwater, 500 feet below. But it is important to note that upon excavation of the Chemical Waste dump over 2,000 containers of chemicals and solvents were discovered, fully intact, meaning the decades-old containers had not yet released their contents into the surrounding soil. A successful excavation led by Sandia prevented further contamination of the groundwater. Today it would be illegal, if not criminal, to dispose of radioactive and hazardous wastes in such a manner.
Bottom line: Liquids were disposed of in the Mixed Waste Landfill. All one needs to do is review the known inventory of liquids disposed of in the dump posted on the Citizen Action website. While both dumps contain much of the same waste materials, the volumes of the waste types vary, and their hazards are relative to their respective specific waste types. The long-lived radioactive nature of much of the waste buried at the Mixed Waste dump makes it very much like a time bomb. Dependent on a multitude of factors it may go off all at once or slowly over time. One example is the leisurely release of toxic constituents over time through the actions of burrowing animals, which have been documented by both the lab and the state as being radioactive.
It is typical for the Department of Energy (DOE), the agency responsible for the waste, to place cost above protection of human health and the environment. It is unfortunate that Sandia National Laboratories does not place a higher value on being a responsible neighbor in cleaning their mess up (and we mean real clean up). It is disappointing that former Energy Secretary Governor Bill Richardson has been silent on this issue. It is a sham that Secretary Ron Curry, NMED, has sanctioned the very plan conceived by the DOE for "clean up" of waste sites that he has publicly condemned.
With the exception of excavation there is no long-term plan that can guarantee to keep the public—and the future residents of Mesa del Sol—protected from toxic waste that will be hazardous forever.