Late last month, Amigos Bravos and our attorneys at Western Environmental Law Center filed a Notice of Intent to sue the federal Environmental Protection Agency for failure to protect the waters of New Mexico from pollution at the Los Alamos National Laboratory. It’s carried by stormwater runoff into the canyons, arroyos and streams coming off of the Pajarito plateau and ultimately into the Rio Grande.
This stormwater contains pollution from PCBs, copper, zinc, nickel and gross alpha radiation. For example, Sandia Canyon in Los Alamos shows PCB contamination more than 14,000 times greater than the New Mexico Human Health water quality criteria and 66 times greater than the New Mexico Wildlife Habitat water quality criteria.
Amigos Bravos and other groups concerned with this pollution, including the pueblos downstream of LANL, have been pushing the EPA for years to address this contamination.
In June 2014, Amigos Bravos petitioned the EPA for a determination that stormwater discharges in Los Alamos County contribute to water quality standards violations and require a Clean Water Act permit. As a result, in 2015, the EPA published a preliminary designation finding that the petition should be granted, but has since failed to take any concrete action.
Amigos Bravos has long pointed out that the toxic pollution flows down from Los Alamos into the Rio Grande above the drinking water diversions for both Santa Fe and Albuquerque, and that discharges of stormwater on LANL property and urban portions of Los Alamos County are 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.”
In May of this year, the Town of Taos passed a resolution regarding “Health, Safety, and Regional Contamination Issues at LANL,” and other government bodies are considering similar resolutions. These expressions of our dismay at the failure of the EPA to protect human health and the environment are an important beginning to developing the political will to force the EPA to do its job.
It has been fully five years since the EPA received Amigos Bravos’ petition to address this problem. It’s a dereliction of duty that the EPA has not yet acted.
“Under the Clean Water Act, the rubber hits the road when the standards and goals for waterways are turned into permit requirements,” said Andrew Hawley, attorney with the Western Environmental Law Center. “(The) EPA must act now to protect the people and environment in Los Alamos County. We hope the EPA decides to do the right thing without having to go to court, but we’re more than ready if it comes to that.”
Please contact your legislators and local governments to tell them how important this issue is to all New Mexicans, and help us make the EPA do its job at Los Alamos.
Joseph Zupan, of Taos, is executive director of Amigos Bravos, a statewide water conservation organization.