An environmental group said it intends to sue the federal Environmental Protection Agency for failing to determine whether stormwater from Los Alamos County should be regulated by a federal pollution permit under the Clean Water Act.

Pollutants — including mercury, copper, cyanide, gross alpha radiation and PCB chemicals — have been detected well above human health and state water quality standards in stormwater runoff samples, attorneys for Taos-based Amigos Bravos said in a letter Wednesday to EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler and David Gray, acting regional administrator.

According to the letter, levels of PCBs, linked to liver and thyroid cancer and reproductive damage, have been detected at levels thousands of times greater than state standards. Runoff from rain or melting snowpack carries metals and chemicals through the finger-like canyons that surround Los Alamos National Laboratory and urban areas of the county.

Amigos Bravos, a water conservation group, petitioned the EPA nearly five years ago to determine whether the water quality violations in Los Alamos County required a federal permit. Such permits are used to enforce water quality standards and keep pollution below certain levels.

The Western Environmental Law Center, representing the group, said a determination still has not been made.

In December 2014, six months after the group filed that petition, the EPA said it would need an additional 60 days to review the issue, based on its complexity. In March 2015, the agency said in a preliminary determination that stormwater flowing from lab property, and from other parts of Los Alamos, was “causing or contributing to ‘exceedances of state water quality standards, including impairment of designated uses, or other significant water quality impacts such as habitat and biological impacts,’ ” according to the letter.

A public comment period also was conducted, ending in June 2015.

“Since that time,” the letter said, “EPA has made no apparent progress on issuing a final determination.”



Andrew Hawley, an attorney for the group, wrote that the EPA has violated its mandatory duties and encouraged the agency to settle to resolve these issues.

In a statement, Rachel Conn, projects director with Amigos Bravos, said toxins flow into drinking water for Santa Fe and Albuquerque.

“It is long past due for EPA to take action to protect New Mexicans’ public health and environment,” she said.

Reporter

Rebecca Moss has covered the environment and Los Alamos National Laboratory for the Santa Fe New Mexican since j2015. In 2018, she was selected to participate in the ProPublica Local Reporting Network.

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