US aims to relax contaminant testing at nuclear weapons lab

SANTA FE, NM (AP) – The US Department of Energy wants to switch to less stringent testing for carcinogenic chemicals in and around one of its major nuclear weapons labs despite concerns from environmentalists and New Mexico regulators.

The federal agency is using the Triennial Review of New Mexico’s Surface Water Rules to request a test at the Los Alamos National Laboratory that is more limited in detecting polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, the Santa Fe New reported. Mexican. Medical research has shown that the chemicals can cause cancer, interfere with children’s brain development, harm reproductive systems, and increase the risk of heart and liver disease.

The Energy Ministry says its testing would be sufficient and that the current state-demanded method goes far beyond what is necessary.

The parties to the dispute have submitted written arguments and testified in hearings held by the State Environmental Improvement Board as part of its review of surface water regulations conducted every three years.

Rachel Conn, project manager for Taos-based water conservation organization Amigos Bravos, criticized the proposed test change as another attempt by the Energy Department to cut corners in health protection public.

“It’s a shame that our taxpayers’ money is being used to lower the bar of protecting New Mexico’s waters and weakening our water quality standards,” she said.

Home of the atomic bomb, Los Alamos National Laboratory has more than 130 miles (209 kilometers) of waterways in and around its site, covering 36 square miles (93 square kilometers). The frequency with which it monitors pollution can vary from one hour to a year, and in some cases every five years.

In New Mexico, the United States Environmental Protection Agency issues permits for stormwater discharges and runoff, and the state verifies that the water quality meets its standards.

John Toll, a Department of Energy consultant, said the state-required test method had never been officially approved by the EPA, so New Mexico must use the test supported by the ‘EPA – what energy officials are proposing.

He also said that the state, in turn, cannot require tests that detect amounts of PCBs below the minimum levels outlined in federal guidelines.

Shelly Lemon, head of the state’s Department of the Environment’s Office of Surface Water Quality, argued that states can enact more stringent regulations than federal rules. Specifically, she wrote that state law does not prohibit agencies from adopting standards more stringent than the Clean Water Act.

Lemon noted that New Mexico’s current test method is the only one known that can assess whether sewage and other discharges meet state criteria as well as federal pollutant permit limits, including for PCBs. The tests are state approved and written into regulations.

Residents of New Mexico, including those in native pueblos near the lab, benefit from more information about the water they consume, not less, said Maggie Hart Stebbins, state natural resources administrator. .

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