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Mercury removed from Los Alamos canyon

SANTA FE, N.M. — The federal Department of Energy’s Environmental Management Los Alamos Field Office recently completed a steep canyon-side cleanup of mercury-contaminated soil on DOE property just south of a shopping center.

The project was finished in about five weeks, ahead of schedule. The field office, Los Alamos National Laboratory management contractor Los Alamos Nuclear Security, LLC, and subcontractor TerranearPMC completed the work.

“We are committed to reducing the Laboratory’s historical footprint and intend to continue to make progress on environmental legacy cleanup,” Christine Gelles, the field office’s acting manager, said in an article posted on the DOE website.

A spider excavator extracts mercury-contaminated soil in a Los Alamos Canyon. (Courtesy DOE)

A spider excavator extracts mercury-contaminated soil in a Los Alamos Canyon. (Courtesy DOE)

Experts used a specialized telescoping crane and spider excavator to remove 160 cubic yards of mercury-contaminated soil from the rugged canyon side. The contaminants derived from Manhattan Project and early Cold War era operations at LANL’s former Technical Area 32, which was the site of a small medical research facility.

After results of the excavation sampling confirmed that the human health and environmental risk at the site was fully addressed, the team restored the site, the DOE article says.

The removed soil was placed in waste bags, lifted from the slope, loaded onto flatbeds, and driven to a nearby waste storage area on DOE property in Los Alamos for the final waste characterization. From there, the waste will be shipped to a disposal facility.

“This cleanup project is the final step in transforming this site into property that can be used for economic development, which is beneficial in bringing new revenue to both the county and the school district,” said Los Alamos County Manager Harry Burgess in the DOE article.