Letters to the editor
Research center scrutinizes radioactive waste disposal
I commend Ralph Jensen's excellent coverage of the long and circuitous path of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) ("Salted away," Sept. '99, p. 40). Readers should be aware that there is another organization not mentioned in the story that aspires to nonpolitical objectivity and public scrutiny of the DOE WIPP operations.
The Carlsbad Environmental Monitoring & Research Center (CEMRC) is located in Carlsbad, N.M. (approximately 26 miles from the WIPP, and the closest city to the site). CEMRC is a part of the College of Engineering at New Mexico State University, and is tasked with providing independent environmental surveillance in the region of the WIPP. Independence from the DOE is achieved by use of a grant for funding (rather than a contract or cooperative agreement), and by public release of resulting data without prior review or approval by DOE.
During the last three years, the CEMRC program has conducted extensive baseline studies, quantifying background levels of plutonium and other transuranic waste constituents that were present in the regional environment and in the human population, prior to the opening of the WIPP. The results of the baseline studies, and repeated measurements for purposes of monitoring since the WIPP began receipt of radioactive waste in March 1999, are provided for public access via the CEMRC Web site, as well as through more traditional reports and newsletters. An example of the project's commitment to public accountability is the monitoring of the air exhaust shaft at the WIPP, with results that are updated weekly on the Web site, providing the nearest thing to "real-time" information on the WIPP that is available anywhere.
To fulfill the original objectives of the grant, continuation of these studies will be required during the estimated 35-year operational life of the WIPP. The CEMRC program is a small example of the concept of transparency that can contribute to responsible worldwide management of nuclear materials. As such, the program represents an interesting experiment in whether the DOE bureaucracy can effectively support such a long-term commitment that entails "hands-off" management and public access to information.
Marsha Conley, PhD
Carlsbad Environmental Monitoring & Research Center
Resistance to regulation of pesticides
I liked your article on pesticides and Rachel Carson ("Shattering the silence," Dec. '99, p. 18). We need to be reminded.
I would like for you to know that pesticide registration had little or no valid environmental fate data on pesticides. This didn't occur until I started the first environmental chemistry program on fate and transport of pesticides in air, water, soil, plants and animals in 1968 while at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), and then at EPA. It took me over 13 years of fighting with industry and higher-ups at USDA and EPA to get these data requirements finalized. Even when I left Pesticides to be science advisor for hazardous waste disposal, Pesticides had to call me back to define the data requirements.
I was stopped when trying to start data requirements for fate of pesticides in groundwater, and was told that I had caused enough problems with the other requirements. It's amazing that the same person who stopped me from instating data requirements ended up being a consultant for the pesticide industry for a groundwater contamination problem in California. The pesticide that I objected to for pesticide registration was registered after my objection was overruled by my bosses.
Ronald E. Ney, Jr, PhD
Author of Fate and Transport of Organic Chemicals in the Environment and Chemicals: What you need to know
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This article originally appeared in the 01/01/2000 issue of Environmental Protection.