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U.S. EPA says cleanup must resume at nuclear weapons research site / Northern California’s Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory must immediately address Superfund site contamination

Release Date: 01/07/2009
Contact Information: Wendy Chavez, 415-947-4248, chavez.wendy@epa.gov

(San Francisco, Calif. -- 01/07/08) The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has notified the Department of Energy that they must immediately resume cleanup activities at its Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in Livermore, Calif., or face escalating penalties.

A federal facilities agreement was signed between EPA, DOE and California state agencies in June 1988. The agreement outlines DOE's responsibilities and milestones for addressing site contamination.

DOE has failed to operate numerous groundwater and soil vapor treatment facilities and associated wells -- an integral part of cleanup activities at the site. While pump-and-treat systems have been shutdown, site contamination has spread laterally and vertically, resulting in a larger volume of contaminated groundwater and increasing timeframes for completing the overall cleanup.

“The shutdown of the treatment systems puts the community and the environment at risk,” said Michael Montgomery, assistant director for the EPA’s Superfund Division in the Pacific Southwest region. “The taxpayers have already paid for the construction of the treatment systems -- it’s DOE's responsibility to operate them”

Indicators show that the recent failure of a large treatment unit on the perimeter of the site has resulted in a loss of contaminated groundwater plume control off-site, where it may spread beneath adjacent local neighborhoods.

The EPA is seeking $105,000 in penalties for the period from July to September 2008 for DOE’s failure to resume cleanup.

Additionally, the EPA is continuing to assess penalties of $10,000 per week from Oct. 1 until DOE resumes the cleanup. Because the violations of the federal facilities agreement are ongoing, the penalty amount will continue to increase until DOE fully restarts the shuttered treatment facilities and associated wells at the site.

Although DOE began shutting down and ceasing to repair treatment facilities in February 2008, the EPA is not assessing penalties for that time period in recognition of the challenges presented by a funding shortfall.

Recent Site History:

In 2007, the EPA certified that DOE had built the necessary groundwater and soil vapor treatment systems needed to clean up the site. The intention was for DOE to operate the systems until the cleanup standards selected by DOE and the EPA were met. It was estimated that this would take several decades.

In early 2008, DOE informed the EPA that Congress had reduced funding for the cleanup and that DOE would need to start shutting down the treatment systems. The EPA advised DOE to seek reprogramming of funds from Congress. By the time this was accomplished, 28 treatment systems had been shut down and 60 percent of the technical support staff had been laid off.

Despite receiving full funding in July 2008, DOE has still not restored operation of most of the systems.

Site Background Information:

The one square-mile Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory site is an active multi-program research laboratory operated by the University of California for the U.S. Department of Energy. A number of research and support operations at LLNL handle, generate, or manage hazardous materials that include radioactive wastes. Hazardous waste treatment activities are carried out on site. The site first was used as a Naval Air Station in the 1940s. In 1951, it was transferred to the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission and was established as a nuclear weapons and magnetic fusion energy research facility. In 1984, the California Department of Health Services issued an order for compliance to LLNL to provide alternative water supplies to residents west of the facility, whose wells had been contaminated by hazardous substances from LLNL.

LLNL is a Superfund site, listed on the National Priorities List as one of the most contaminated sites in the country. The EPA and DOE first signed an agreement to cleanup LLNL in 1988. Groundwater and soil under the site and in neighboring areas are contaminated with volatile organic compounds and other hazardous chemicals.

To view a copy of the letter U.S. EPA sent to DOE regarding this matter please visit: http://www.epa.gov/region09/superfund/index.html

For additional information about Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory Superfund site please visit: http://www.epa.gov/region09/lawrencelivermoremain