By Staci Matlock
From the Santa Fe New Mexican
Tougher drinking waterstandards, especially for radioactive contaminants, are needed to protectfetuses and infants, according to a nuclear fusion expert speaking by Skype toa packed audience Thursday at the Santa Fe Community Convention Center.
An estimated 100 peoplelistened to experts and clean-water advocates discuss the latest efforts inpreventing natural and man-made radioactive waste and other contaminants fromreaching drinking water supplies.
The conference hosted by acoalition of groups called Communities for Clean Water, continues today atNorthern New Mexico College in Española. The conference was specifically toaddress concerns raised about the impact of waste on water following lastyear’s Las Conchas fire that burned thousands of acres around Los Alamos andSanta Clara Pueblo.
Makhijani, an electrical andnuclear engineer who heads the Maryland-based Institute for Energy andEnvironmental Research, told the crowd that drinking water standards are setprimarily around cancer risks. “The standards are adequate but there’s noprotection built into them for problems like radionuclides crossing placentas,”he said.
Radioactive elements moveacross the placenta in pregnant women and can affect a developing fetus.Makhijani noted that reproductive rights needed to be not just about protectingthe rights of women who don’t want to have children, but the rights of mothersand their babies to a healthy environment. “I think this society owes to babiesand women who want to have children a healthy society,” he said.
In terms of waste from LosAlamos National Laboratory, protecting people means preventing radionuclidesthat might wash down the canyons into the Rio Grande from getting diverted andmixed in with drinking water, Makhijani said. Water diverted from the RioGrande at the Buckman Direct Diversion is treated at a plant before it is mixedwith Santa Fe drinking water, but some water advocates remain concerned thetreatment isn’t enough to completely remove radionuclides.
Elaine Cimino, anotherpresenter, gave the crowd a brief history of efforts to have 3,000 miles ofunderground aquifers protected as a sole drinking water source by the federalEnvironmental Protection Agency. The 2008 designation adds a layer ofprotection to groundwater from Tres Piedras to south of Santa Fe. Cimino andNew Mexico hydrologist Zane Spiegel worked for seven years to gain thedesignation for eight aquifers in the Espanola Basin.
Groups then fought the lab overmanagement of stormwater runoff from LANL property into canyons connected tothe river and over monitoring of groundwater wells to determine the speed atwhich contaminants might reach aquifers. The lab was required to obtain anindividual stormwater permit from the EPA, which requires LANL to clean up 405dump sites. The lab also obtained a hazardous waste permit from the stateEnvironment Department, which regulates the storage and treatment of hazardouswaste.
The community fight to holdLANL accountable “comes down to our right to self determination,” Cimino said.Cimino and others are now asking the EPA to consider further aquiferprotections for the Española Basin.