Environment News Service

AmeriScan: December 1, 1999


SANTA FE, New Mexico, November 1, 1999 (ENS) - The New Mexico Environment Department is demanding that the Department of Energy (DOE) pay $1.3 million for "violations of the state hazardous waste law." The 11 page compliance order, sent Tuesday, claims the DOE’s Rocky Flats facility in Colorado illegally sent radioactive waste mixed with other hazardous materials to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) near Carlsbad, New Mexico. "We have not seen the compliance order. When we do we will respond appropriately," said Patrick Etchart, DOE spokesman at Rocky Flats. WIPP opened in March with a federal permit allowing it to store only "straight radioactive waste'' that is not mixed with other hazardous metals or chemicals. Rocky Flats shipped 23 truckloads of waste under that permit. New Mexico claims that some of the barrels the DOE shipped from Rocky Flats contained hazardous waste such as chromium and should have been classified as "mixed."

New Mexico has no authority over shipments of straight radioactive waste, but does have jurisdiction over mixed waste. On Friday, the DOE halted all shipments to WIPP from Rocky Flats and other DOE facilities, pending audits of DOE weapons sites that generate waste. The shipments were stopped because of a state hazardous materials permit that went into effect Friday. The permit should allow the plant to begin receiving shipments of radioactive waste mixed with nonradioactive hazardous chemicals. The DOE must submit a report to the state for each site, and New Mexico officials will review the audits to ensure that they comply with the permit’s waste analysis requirements. The process could delay waste shipments to WIPP for weeks or months.

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