Los Alamos National Laboratory, the U.S. Dept. of Energy research complex and former atomic-weapons development center in New Mexico, has settled a three-year-old lawsuit with environmental groups that alleged contaminated stormwater runoff at more than 100 sites on its 36-sq-mile campus. The laboratory did not admit to fault but has agreed to spend $80 million on stormwater control upgrades, including construction of berms, rock dams, weirs and detention ponds.
The 2008 lawsuit by eight community groups and two individuals alleges that Los Alamos violated the federal Clean Water Act by allowing elevated levels of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and chlorine, among other pollutants, to be discharged from sites since the 1950s. The complex denies the charges.
“Lab and independent data show that the Rio Grande River meets drinking-water standards today, and we intend to keep it that way,” says Fred deSousa, a DOE spokesman. “Water quality in the river near the lab is as good or better than [in] any other section.” The laboratory is managed by Los Alamos National Security LLC, a consortium of Bechtel National Inc., San Francisco; the University of California, Oakland; Babcock & Wilcox Co., Charlotte, N.C.; and URS Corp., San Francisco. The pact requires monitoring of 400 sites and, within three years, completion of upgrades at 63 high-priority sites. Remaining site discharges must be captured or eliminated by 2015.
Some contaminated areas had 38,000 times the legal level of PCBs, says Brian Shields, executive director of Amigo Bravos, a Taos, N.M., environmental group and a litigant. “The settlement is designed to eliminate contaminated stormwater discharges that could soak into the ground and become surface runoff that flows into rivers and streams,” he says. The pact gives litigants access to waste dump sites and to laboratory technical meetings. Los Alamos will provide $200,000 to community groups for an independent technical review of its new stormwater permit.