KUNM

New Mexico Environment Department

Rashad Mahmood, KUNM

New Mexico environment officials say they’ll present a plan to clean up a toxic underground plume at a public meeting Thursday evening in Albuquerque.

National Nuclear Security Administration via Wikimedia Commons/public domain

The nation’s only underground nuclear waste dump is back in operation again. The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant near Carlsbad stored low level nuclear waste deep in the earth Wednesday for the first time since the facility was closed following a fire and a radiation leak in early 2014.

The New Mexico Environment Department enforces hazardous waste regulations at WIPP. Secretary Butch Tongate says they’ve reviewed procedures, equipment, safety protocols and permit compliance at the facility.

Supreme Court To Hear Arguments On Copper Rule

Sep 27, 2016
Laura Paskus/KUNM

The New Mexico Environment Department released a new rule protecting groundwater from copper mining three years ago. The copper rule was one that state officials, mining companies, and environmentalists had spent more than six months writing. When released by the state, though, key provisions had been changed.

Ed Williams

When toxic chemicals are released into the environment, figuring out whether they’re making people sick can be a major challenge. It’s a problem the state is trying to solve now in the Sawmill and Wells Park neighborhoods near downtown Albuquerque, where an underground plume of dangerous dry cleaning solvents is flowing just beneath people’s homes and businesses. 

NMED Announces Plume Testing Results, Cleanup Strategy

Jun 16, 2016
Victoria Edwards

Laun-Dry Supply Company is moving toward cleaning up a decades-old solvent spill near downtown Albuquerque. The state's Environment Department addressed a packed Wells Park Neighborhood Association meeting yesterday.

Neighborhood Could Get Plume Test Results, Cleanup Plan

Jun 13, 2016
Rashad Mahmood-Public Health New Mexico

The state Environment Department is expected to talk about chemical testing and cleanup efforts for a decades-old chemical spill in the heart of Albuquerque on Tuesday. The Laun-Dry Supply Company spill is on a neighborhood meeting agenda.

The chemical distribution business leaked toxic solvents near downtown Albuquerque over the course of several decades. NMED is expected to present results from testing in homes where people might be breathing in toxic gases from the spill.

BRRT via Pixabay / public domain

KUNM’s Public Health New Mexico project has been reporting on a plume of toxic chemicals in Albuquerque’s groundwater for over six months.

We obtained public documents from the New Mexico Environment Department that show the groundwater plume has been spreading underneath a mile-and-a-half-long swath of Albuquerque’s Sawmill and Wells Park neighborhoods. Our investigation shows the contamination has the potential to reach people on the surface and could pose a serious health risk to people living and working in the area.

Ed Williams

Editor's Note: A spokeswoman for the New Mexico Environment Department emailed with concerns about this story. We reviewed them and found no inaccuracies. We stand by our reporting. You can find a link to her email and read our response here.

Decades ago, a chemical business called Laun-Dry Supply Company leaked poisonous dry cleaning solvents into Albuquerque’s groundwater.

In the years since, nobody has investigated possible health impacts to people living near the contamination.

But that changed this week. On Wednesday, the New Mexico Environment Department started the process of testing houses for chemicals from the Laun-Dry spill.

A company that leaked toxic dry cleaning chemicals into the groundwater near downtown Albuquerque is planning to test the air in nearby homes to see if the chemicals pose a health risk to people living on top of the contamination. 

Jan Marlyn Reesman via Flickr

An environmental watchdog group is criticizing a decision by the state of New Mexico to join a lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency. The suit claims the EPA overreached its authority with a new rule that gives more streams and tributaries federal pollution protection.

Four Corners Methane Hotspot Presentations Online

May 26, 2015
Laura Paskus

Last month, citizens, local officials and state regulators from New Mexico and Colorado gathered in Farmington, N.M. to learn more about the methane anomaly over the Four Corners that is being studied by scientists across the nation.

Geologue via Flickr

An environmental law firm in Santa Fe is petitioning the state Supreme Court to overturn a law that allows copper mines to pollute groundwater. 

As the law stands, companies can allow toxic drainage to seep into the groundwater beneath their copper mines, as long as the pollution stays within a designated perimeter. But New Mexico Environmental Law Center director Douglas Meiklejohn says that’s a violation of the state’s Water Quality Act.

Pipeline Plan Ignites Controversy

Feb 11, 2015
Laura Paskus

UPDATE 2/12: All told, the BLM ended up receiving about 30,000 comments on the proposed Piñon Pipeline. That's according to Victoria Barr of the BLM's Farmington Field Office who discussed oil and gas development in northwestern New Mexico on the KUNM Call In Show.   

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WIPP Incidents Result In $54M Proposed Fines

Dec 9, 2014
Wikimedia

KUNM Call In Show 12/11 8a: The New Mexico Environment Department has fined the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant and Los Alamos National Laboratory a total of $54 million related to two incidents at the nation's only underground nuclear waste repository earlier this year. An underground fire and a release of radiation in February contaminated 22 workers and shuttered the facility. 

What are the fines for? And what must WIPP and LANL do to come into compliance with hazardous waste permits? Are the fines enough?

Guests:

Feds Not Surprised By Nuclear Fines

Dec 8, 2014
energy.gov

The Department of Energy wasn’t surprised when they were hit with tens of millions of dollars in fines by the state environment department for mishandling of nuclear waste.

A spokesperson for the federal agency said they self-disclosed that both Los Alamos National Laboratory and the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant were in violation of their hazardous waste permits.

Back in February a container of nuclear waste from LANL that was being stored at WIPP ruptured and at least 20 workers were exposed to radiation.

NMED Open To Suggestions For Kirtland Fuel Cleanup

Oct 22, 2014
Rita Daniels

 

The New Mexico Environment Department took about 50 members of the public on an informational tour of the Kirtland Air Force jet fuel spill this week.  The tour group spent the day learning about the parts of  Albuquerque’s aquifer that have been contaminated.

Geologists said one of the issues that makes cleanup of the site so complicated is that the water table has risen in recent years, trapping some of the liquid jet fuel beneath the top of the aquifer.

Rita Daniels

    

Kirtland Air Force Base will not submit a plan to pump and treat contaminated groundwater at the end of this month as expected.

Officials from Kirtland and the state say they still need more information before moving forward on the cleanup of an underground fuel spill that has contaminated Albuquerque’s aquifer.

A still from the Town Hall video

Department of Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz hosted a town hall meeting in Carlsbad last night to talk about recovery efforts at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant. It's the nation's only underground nuclear waste storage facility, just 26 miles east of the town. WIPP has remained closed since the radiation leak in mid-February, and the cause of the leak remains unclear.

Secretary Moniz promised the crowd that WIPP will re-open, and members of New Mexico’s congressional delegation talked about their efforts to get WIPP the funds it needs to operate safely.