Tests that are less able to detect carcinogenic chemicals in water would replace current more acute tests at the Los Alamos National Laboratory as part of a regulatory change proposed by the US Department of Energy.
The federal agency is using the triennial review of New Mexico’s surface water rules to push for more limited testing in the detection of polychlorinated biphenyls – PCBs for short – and to adjust the regulations of the ‘State to adapt to this method.
Environmentalists and state regulators oppose less stringent testing for PCBs, which medical research has been shown to cause cancer, interfere with children’s brain development, harm reproductive systems, and increase the risk of heart and liver disease.
The Department of Energy argues that the proposed tests would be sufficient and that the current method required by the state goes far beyond what is necessary.
The parties to the dispute submitted written arguments and testified in hearings held by the State Environmental Improvement Board as part of its triennial review of surface water regulation. The board is open to suggested regulatory changes that the state will consider and decide whether to adopt in the coming year.
A clean water advocate criticized the proposed test change as another attempt by the Energy Department to cut corners in protecting public health.
âIt’s a shame that our taxpayer’s money is being used to lower the bar on protecting New Mexico’s waters and weakening our water quality standards,â said Rachel Conn, project manager for Amigos Bravos, based in Taos.
Conn, who refuted in a board hearing, said the public money she was referring to matches what the Energy Department paid lawyers and consultants to explain why the lab should have more lax testing standards.
The lab has 130 to 140 miles of streams in and around its site, covering 36 square miles. The frequency with which it monitors water pollution varies by location and contaminant – hourly, weekly, monthly, quarterly, annually or, if the license term is fixed, 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.
Lab officials did not respond to a request for comment. But during his testimony, John Toll, a consultant for the Department of Energy, told the council that the test method required by the state had never been officially approved by the United States Environmental Protection Agency. .
Therefore, the state must use the test that the EPA has approved – and that energy officials are proposing – to determine the levels of contaminants in surface water, Toll argued. This test is the preferred method in the Clean Water Act guidelines known as “Part 136,” he said.
The state, in turn, cannot demand tests that detect amounts below the minimum levels outlined in these guidelines, Toll said. He argued that the state needs to revise its regulatory language to accommodate these less sensitive tests.
A state regulator refuted Toll’s arguments both in his testimony and in an email.
“States can pass more stringent regulations than federal regulations, which is the case here,” wrote Shelly Lemon, head of the state Department of Environment’s Office of Surface Water Quality.
Specifically, state law does not prohibit agencies from adopting standards more stringent than the Clean Water Act, she wrote.
The state’s current testing method is the only known test method that can assess whether sewage and other discharges meet state criteria as well as federal permit limits for pollutants, including for PCBs, a- she writes. The tests are state approved and written into regulations, she added.
Lemon described the state’s test detecting PCBs at levels lower than what federal officials want to use.
The Department of Energy is looking for tests that detect PCBs in micrograms per liter, while the state’s current test can measure PCBs in picograms, which are one millionth of the size of a microgram, it said. she writes.
In practical terms, the federal agency’s test would be insufficient, identifying the toxic chemical at a level 35 times higher than the state’s allowable limit, Lemon wrote, unlike the state’s test for PCBs at a degree 15 times lower than the limit. .
Conn said the lab’s pressure for more lax testing is part of a larger effort to weaken state permit requirements on pollutants.
The lab has appealed its clearances to challenge the state’s testing criteria, and at the same time, it is now trying to replace those more rigorous monitoring methods, she said, calling the two activities a “correlation. direct “.
Residents of New Mexico, including those in the pueblos near the lab, benefit from more information about the water they consume, not less, said Maggie Hart Stebbins, the state’s natural resources administrator.
Hart Stebbins said his office is examining how PCBs affect ecosystems that support fish and other wildlife, which are vulnerable to these toxic pollutants.
“We support the use of the most sensitive methodologies available to detect PCBs at the lowest possible concentrations,” she said. “This is important because PCBs accumulate and biomagnify throughout the food chain.”
This means that even small amounts of PCBs have a significant impact on insects, fish, beavers and bears living in areas contaminated by laboratory releases, she said.
“So this proposal is clearly going in the wrong direction,” said Hart Stebbins.