The New Mexico Environment Department is accusing Los Alamos National Laboratory of violating state regulations and its hazardous waste permit by sending tons of construction waste to the Caja del Rio Landfill in Santa Fe and other sites without proper notification and labeling.
“Due to the nature and severity of the violations … and LANL’s past history of noncompliance,” the state agency says in a letter to lab officials dated Nov. 5 — just days after a new contractor took over operations — it is seeking penalties that could include fines of up to $10,000 per day for each violation, as well as a state District Court injunction and revocation or suspension of permits.
Officials from the lab and the Environment Department declined to comment on any settlement amount being discussed.
Along with Caja del Rio, the state agency’s letter says, some of the material from renovation and demolition projects at the lab was sent to the Los Alamos Landfill and to facilities in Albuquerque and Colorado between 2015 and 2017.
A lab spokesman said in an email that out of thousands of hazardous waste containers shipped during that time, four were found to have “previously unreported administrative discrepancies” in documentation and labeling.
“At no time was the public or the environment at risk from hazardous material,” the email said.
“While that record represents well over a 99% success rate,” the email said, “we believe we can and must do better. We are analyzing our waste characterization process to identify process improvements to assist us develop more accurate and complete shipping manifests.”
Still, at least one local public official was irate that the lab’s waste violations were not made public.
Santa Fe County Commissioner Anna Hansen, who represents the district that includes the Caja del Rio Landfill, said she obtained a copy of the Environment Department’s letter from a constituent earlier this week. “I think it’s frightening that nobody knows about this,” Hansen said. “I’m not happy.”
She was concerned about the possibility of contamination from the dumping, she said, adding, “This is a tendency for LANL to think they can do things without being responsible to the citizens of our county.”
In response to Hansen’s criticisms, an Environment Department spokeswoman said in an email that “NMED generally doesn’t issue press releases when it is addressing enforcement matters.”
The New Mexican reported a year ago that Los Alamos saw a significant drop in violations of its state hazardous waste permit in fiscal year 2017, with 25 infractions compared to 100 the previous year.
In 2014, the state levied $36.6 million in penalties against the U.S. Department of Energy and private contractors for a string of violations that led to a radiation leak that shuttered the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in Southern New Mexico. An improperly packed waste container from Los Alamos had burst in the underground storage site.
On Nov. 1, a new consortium, the nonprofit Triad National Security LLC, took over operations of the lab from Los Alamos National Security LLC following a yearslong series of management and safety concerns. Triad members include Battelle Memorial Institute, the Texas A&M University System and the University of California. The UC system also was a partner in LANS.