Eleventh Public Meeting
Public Comments / Questions and Answers
(These statements are NOT direct quotes. All statements are paraphrased.)
Public: Does it look to you that the release of radio nuclides comes from many small releases or a few large releases?
Tom Widner: Plutonium releases were largely routine releases spread over time; tritium releases were more episodic. There really is a mixture of the two. Soil sampling does not help ascertain the detailed timing of releases.
Joe Shonka: Episodic releases are in some cases very well documented for the time frame and quantity. Specific experiments are well documented. Tritium was typically released in relatively large releases in accidents.
Public: Tritium containers in Area 4 continually leak, which is being denied. Are these contractors at the lab?
Tom Widner: Yes, in most cases.
Public: What is the benchmark for all the reports?
Tom Widner: The owners are the University of California. An appeal process was set up and when we used it there was quite a period where we did not receive a response. Now there is a process in place that will allow the CDC to come in and review documents. CDC will have to push the issue. We are just now ready to test the process.
Public: Can you give us a sense on how long it will take the CDC to make a go, no-go decision?
Phil Green: Once we receive the bid package, we are hoping for release of funds to be in 30 days. A leader from the contracting office indicates funds to be released by the end of the fiscal year.
Public: How long will it take to complete the phases?
Phil Green: We can't release that information. The contractors need to provide that information in their proposals.
Public: The time to complete the review could then vary with the proposals received?
Phil Green: The level of effort, time to gear up, maximum numbers of people working, staffing restrictions will all have play. It also depends on the support received from LANL. As Tom said, we are making good progress in getting documents out of the backlog to be included in the final report in June.
Public: The lead up to public meeting seems to stimulate action.
Phil Green: Improvement was facilitated with ongoing negotiations. Guidance documents evolve as we work through the process. I am cautiously optimistic.
Public: Do you know why there appears to be an equal amount of records per year even with the lab growing?
Tom Widner: A larger fraction of older records are relevant to the project.
Helen Dorado-Gray, Sen. Bingaman's Staff: I represent Senator Bingham. I sent a letter supporting continuation of this work. It is important for workers to know what they were exposed to and at what levels. Bingaman has requested funding to assist in this project.
C.M. Wood: When the project started, support for the project was an unfunded mandate and the costs came out of LANL's overhead. Now they have a line-item to support the project and have the money now to support what we are doing. The lab allocated $1.2 million this year for their processing of records in the backlog for classification review. Our contractors were also denied access to some records. As government officials, however, CDC will be allowed to review records that our contractors can not. By the next meeting, I should have seen lots of documents previously denied access.
Public: We are impressed with how you overcame pitfalls and landmines, and I thank you.
Tom Widner: We appreciate your involvement.
Roger Snodgrass, Los Alamos Monitor: Can you give a sense of what has changed since the last meeting and how much you have accomplished?
Tom Widner: We are still in the one-half to two-thirds range of completing the review. We had to slow down and give CDC time to determine how to finish the work with the available funds.
Joe Shonka: We got some significant things done. We scanned in documents and ran OCR on the documents. We assembled a priority list and were able to get the backlog of records out quickly. We have put a lot of effort into the draft report, interviews and critiques of our work.
Roger Snodgrass, Los Alamos Monitor: How did you determine that more plutonium was released that the lab reports?
Tom Widner: We used soil data comparisons based on more careful selection of samples, resulting in the 37 best samples.
Joe Shonka: The issue is not closed. We need to formalize calculations. Emissions from D Building were unfiltered, and it appears from the slope of the line that a lot of the releases apparently came from D Building. The assessment also ignores weathering of the soil.
Public: What is being done to indicate uncertainties?
Tom Widner: That is hard to do this early on, but will be a key consideration as work continues.
Public: Don't just say numbers are higher than reported. You need to indicate the significance of numbers.
Tom Widner: We accept your point. These are preliminary assessments. We can not draw conclusions regarding health effects. It would be premature and not appropriate at this point.
Public: Can you apprise us of how tight the lab is in respect to a terrorist attack? If there is an attack in near future, it could really spread contamination around the area. Have you been apprised?
Tom Widner: No, that is really out of the scope of our work.
Phil Green: Our subject is historical releases.
Tom Widner: We are not focused on current efforts and releases.
Dennis Paustenbach: If this project was taken to an endpoint, is it likely that this site will be as well understood as Rocky Flats?
Tom Widner: Each site is different. Each has data gaps. We have quite a bit of work to do before we can say.
Dennis Paustenbach: At the half-way point of data gathering, is data as robust as compared to other sites?
Tom Widner: Yes. LANL has largely maintained a research atmosphere. Some activities are more documented; others less.
Dennis Paustenbach: Based on other experience, what is the time and cost required to complete the document review?
Tom Widner: That depends on how CDC decides to go forward. Some steps could be collapsed or a directed document review could be considered. I don't know what CDC is going to ask for.
Dennis Paustenbach: How many years will it take to complete a dose reconstruction?
C.M. Wood: We can't talk about that. The RFQ is in procurement. CDC has similar experience at Hanford and the Savannah River Site. These are production sites and easier to calculate. Another research facility is INEEL. It might be instructive to explain what CDC is doing there. Dose reconstruction is a series of iterations at which you come to a decision point. At this point, where a certain amount of funds needs to be added to the contract, you determine if you have enough information to do a dose reconstruction. If the answer is no, you need to gather more information.
Public: What makes a dose reconstruction worthwhile? It was reported that there is an epidemic of cancer among employees in LANL.
C.M. Wood: Radiogenic cancer is very specific. At Hanford, large doses of iodine followed with a Hanford thyroid epidemiology study, which may be an indicator for a dose study. That's one reason. The Snake River Group is not interested in dose reconstruction. They are concerned with current issues.
Helen Dorado-Gray, Sen. Bingaman's Staff: One reason why is it important to do dose reconstruction is to support programs developed to compensate people that suffer resulting disease or ailments. If we don't do dose reconstruction, people can't settle with the government. This is the government's way of saying we have had some bad practices but are willing to compensate.
Tom Widner: A dose reconstruction often provides the public with the first independently generated picture of a site's operations and potential impacts.
Joe Shonka: A dose reconstruction is important because people become distrustful of site-specific assertions of what was released. Independent scientists go in and study an area. They prepare their assessments on releases and potential effects. They can provide some closure on what was released and did it hurt us.
Tom Widner: We are not here to say if lab did no wrong or that they did all evil. We are here to find data, and the data lead us in one direction or another. Some assessments we have conducted showed that releases were lower than expected; others showed that releases were higher than what most folks anticipated. This is the first comprehensive review and compilation of records at LANL. We had to truncate our efforts at this point, but we have added quite a bit.
Public: Is the 60-day comment period from today?
Tom Widner: Yes. The biggest room in the world is the room for improvement, and we look forward to receiving your comments and suggestions.
Public: Could you clarify the compensation act? Individual workers do not pay dividends for workers. There is an overall increase of knowledge in the community. How do you determine if it is appropriate to continue?
Susan Flack: A few workers have been able to use information released through this project. There are a couple of examples where workers could tell the information was about them based on the time frame although the names had been removed. They had the luxury of going through records the lab doesn't have time to go through.
Tom Widner: We are not focused on the workers; that is NIOSH's domain. However, we inform NIOSH about information we find that we think would be useful to them.
Peter Malmgren: I am aware of the struggles, of people feeling abandoned. The people involved in the compensation claim process are frustrated. The lack of attention to these people is shameful.
Tom Widner: Thanks for coming.