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Tuesday, April 04, 2006  
Group wants lab toxins containment plan to go further

By: Sam Richards
Published In: Contra Costa Times

ALTAMONT HILLS: In proposal, trench would be built around Superfund site that leaks pollutants.

A proposal to dig a trench around a waste pit at Lawrence Livermore Laboratory's Site 300 testing area in the Altamont Hills is only a partial solution to containing the toxic pollutants, according to a watchdog group concerned with groundwater cleanup.

At a meeting in Tracy on Wednesday, the federal Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency will describe a plan to dig a trench around "Pit 7," which between 1958 and 1988 served as a dumping ground for nitrate, perchlorate, tritium and depleted uranium. The chemicals were used for, or are byproducts of, explosives testing.

Pit 7 is now a Superfund site, qualifying for federal cleanup dollars.

The trench would divert water from the pit area -- water that would both push underground contamination farther out and would itself become contaminated.

The trench is only part of the proposal, which also would include removing and isolating contaminated groundwater.

Marylia Kelley, executive director of the Livermore-based Tri-Valley Communities Against a Radioactive Environment watchdog group, said the plan is fine -- as far as it goes.

"But that alone probably will not stop the migration of the contamination plume that's already there," said Kelley, whose group wants "French drain" trenches not only above Pit 7, but at elevations below it to further capture water already contaminated.

The estimated cost of the preferred plan is between $11 million and $15 million over 30 years, according to a DOE report.

The pit, which is lined, was found to have leaked the various "principal threat wastes" with plumes stretching as far as two miles from the pit.

Pit 7 is in the northwest corner of the Site 300 property, straddling the Alameda-San Joaquin County line 17 miles east of Livermore and nine miles west of Tracy.

"It's been found when the water table rises in the winter, the pit leaks into the groundwater," said Lynda Seaver, a spokeswoman for the lab.

The greatest health threat posed by the various leaking chemicals, according to a DOE report, is the potential inhalation of evaporating tritium from the pit site. Only people working around the pit would be susceptible to long-term exposure, the report says, and other groundwater pollution poses limited risks to people beyond Site 300's borders.

Kelley and Tri-Valley CARES favor cleaning up the area surrounding Pit 7 thoroughly enough so houses could be built on the land. Site 300 probably won't operate forever, she said, and may be developed someday for houses or other uses.

Reach Sam Richards at or 925-847-2147.



When: Wednesday, 6 p.m.

Where: Tracy Community Center, 300 E. 10th St., Tracy


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