This month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released the final draft of a 558-page report 10 years in the making, the Los Alamos Historical Document Retrieval and Assessment Project. It found dangerous “airborne releases” from Los Alamos National Laboratory “were significantly greater than has been officially reported,” and that “exposure rates in public areas from the world’s first nuclear explosion”—the 1945 Trinity test—“were measured at levels 10,000 times higher than currently allowed.” SFR spoke to Joni Arends, executive director of Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety—which watchdogs the environmental and health effects of the work done at LANL—about the report. The CDC will hold a public meeting on the report at 5 pm Thursday, June 25 at the Hilton at Buffalo Thunder.
SFR: Why should I care about what happened at LANL decades ago?
JA: The devastation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was catastrophic. But we also have to realize that the United States bombed New Mexico first. Sixty-four years later, we still don’t know what happened to the people in central New Mexico. People had cisterns where they collected their drinking water and weren’t told not to drink the water [after the Trinity test]. The secrecy started then.
There’s a theme in the report that LANL is underplaying the extent of its emissions.
That’s their standard operating procedure.
So this is one branch of government saying to another, ‘You have poisoned people, and you’ve misrepresented how much’?
Exactly. The Department of Energy funds CDC to do this work, and over the years DOE has tried to cut that funding.
The report says LANL may have historically exposed the public to cancer-causing chemicals at rates above what was permitted for lab workers. That’s surprising.
I think it demonstrates the cavalier way LANL did business—and does business. We’re suing over storm-water discharges at the lab. There’s dump sites at canyon bottoms emitting 38,000 times the human health standard for [toxic] PCBs.
There are also old pictures of liquid radioactive waste flowing into nearby canyons.
They continue to discharge. Those discharges move that contamination toward the regional aquifer. And we share the regional aquifer with the lab. Acid Canyon, in the photo, still has contamination in it from the Manhattan Project. This canyon flows into Pueblo Canyon, which flows into the Rio Grande, where Santa Fe is diverting water for the Buckman Direct Diversion Project. If you get a snowfall or a monsoon with enough volume, the contamination flows to the Rio Grande.
By now, shouldn’t we know if New Mexico’s population is sicker?
Well, we kind of don’t know because the New Mexico Tumor Registry is not open to the public. There’s anecdotal stories of increased childhood leukemia [and] of communities only having girls and no boys. That’s why this report is so important: We can shape how the dose reconstruction is done, so we can see whether northern New Mexico is in fact sicker. We want a dose reconstruction for small populations that takes into account the different exposures, whether it’s from making pottery or using herbs, and addressing that people grow their own food here and drink well water.
‘Eat local’ is a nationwide trend. Is that unwise here?
Um, that’s a hard question to answer. There’s global fallout, so everybody has plutonium in their body. There are additional risks living 25 miles from a nuclear weapons manufacturing facility. You have to weigh, is it better to buy local—which I do—or deal with the climate change issues from shipping?
Do they hate you at LANL?
I don’t know. Some people, on the side, tell me to keep doing what I’m doing.