Casper Star-Tribune
Casper, Wyoming

Watchdog groups already raised concerns outlined in lawsuit

Wednesday, February 21, 2001

IDAHO FALLS, Idaho (AP) - Some allegations raised in federal court by two former Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory auditors mirror those that have been raised more recently by watchdogs.

The lawsuit, first filed five years ago, claims air pollution monitors were shut off during the early and mid-1990s to hide emissions. State regulators this week planned to go through the 400-page complaint to compare the allegations against the violations for which they have already fined the INEEL over the years.

More than $1 million in fines has been levied over the years for various violations.

The suit, filed by two whistle-blowers who conducted environmental audits at the site, also says employees admitted monitors on smokestacks releasing radioactive and hazardous chemicals were grossly out of compliance with environmental laws.

Those are among the allegations raised by the Environmental Defense Institute, Keep Yellowstone Nuclear Free and David McCoy, an Idaho Falls resident.

"Finally, we're seeing a snapshot from the inside from guys that had access to many of the internal documents and who were doing interviews with the workers," said Environmental Defense Institute Director Chuck Broscious, who claims about 450 members concentrated near Moscow.

A lawyer for one of the site contractors called the suit baseless because environmental problems were disclosed to federal and state regulators as they were discovered.

But the suit does makes allegations that watchdog groups did not know about - that workers covered up spills, falsified records, ignored problems with respirators, dumped flammable chemicals down city drains and doctored results to make it look as if unsuccessful projects were working.

Energy Department officials said last week that those problems had already been investigated or corrected.

But following last year's successful battle to block a proposed nuclear waste incinerator, those groups have begun questioning the data and methods the site has used to declare it has no harmful effect on people living nearby. They have argued the INEEL has sometimes relied on emissions, rather than direct monitoring, and may have underreported pollution being released into the air.

The Environmental Protection Agency is looking into the groups' recent allegations.

McCoy, an attorney who has been combing through INEEL records for the past year, maintained full-scale congressional inquiry is warranted.

"They should go through every facility out there and find out what the problems are, what's been addressed and what hasn't been addressed," he said.

The watchdog groups raised concerns earlier this year that the site shut off an air-quality monitor for iodine-131 for three years in the early 1990s. That radioactive substance, which has been linked to thyroid cancers, is not caught by air filters and is released directly into the environment.

INEEL officials said it was shut off because the calciner, the main source of iodine emissions, was not running then. They said they accurately estimated releases from other processes by sampling gases before they went up the stack.

But the groups' petition to the Environmental Protection Agency cites a 1996 internal report by then-contractor Lockheed Martin that says the consistency with which the site had been calculating its annual radioactive emissions was poor.

Those documents say it was possible some air pollution releases were missed in annual reports that regulators use to determine whether the site is harming the public.

The auditors' lawsuit also quotes a Lockheed Martin employee in 1997 as saying the monitoring problems were comparable to those at Los Alamos National Laboratory, where 31 of the 33 major radioactivity-emitting stacks were not meeting environmental laws.