Office of Environmental Management

Soil Cleanup an Achievement at Los Alamos Townsite

September 12, 2019

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Soil cleanup near Smith's Marketplace in Los Alamos completed in 2015.
Soil cleanup near Smith's Marketplace in Los Alamos completed in 2015.

LOS ALAMOS, N.M. – Much of the mission of Los Alamos National Laboratory during the Manhattan Project and the early Cold War period took place at what was known as Technical Area-01 (TA-01).

Perched on a plateau near a canyon edge, TA-01 was the laboratory’s original footprint. The area that once comprised TA-01 is part of the Los Alamos townsite and was the focus of a cleanup that the DOE and laboratory have safely and successfully completed.

Decades ago, TA-01 was the site of several chemical and physics research laboratories. Operations performed there and at nearby technical areas resulted in soil contamination.

Since the early 1950s, the sites once associated with these former technical areas were subjected to various decommissioning, demolition, investigation, remediation, and construction activities. Beginning in the late 1950s, much of the land was turned over to non-DOE entities for commercial, recreational, and residential uses.

In total, 115 legacy sites were identified across what is now the Los Alamos townsite on private property, Los Alamos County property, and DOE property adjacent to Los Alamos Canyon. In 2005, DOE began investigating and cleaning up these sites, where required, in compliance with regulatory requirements identified first in the 2005 Compliance Order on Consent with the New Mexico Environment Department and more recently under the 2016 Consent Order.

Before cleaning up legacy sites, DOE and the laboratory analyzed the nature and extent of the contamination. Contaminants from legacy activities include chemicals such as solvents, metals such as lead and mercury, and radionuclides such as uranium and plutonium.

Most of the original infrastructure from legacy operations was removed over the past several decades. During this period, DOE and the laboratory evaluated the soil surrounding previously existing buildings, waste lines, underground storage tanks, septic tanks, waste storage areas, outfalls, and additional infrastructures.

If soil samples indicated levels of contaminants above regulatory standards, DOE and the laboratory removed the soil until the site met acceptable risk-based cleanup levels developed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The risk-based cleanup levels are based on the projected land use, such as commercial or residential uses. The soil that was removed was packaged in compliance with waste management regulations and sent to licensed disposal facilities.

In the summer of 2017, the final two known legacy sites requiring cleanup in the townsite were cleaned up along Los Alamos Canyon. Their relatively inaccessible location, combined with the steep and uneven topography of the canyon, required the use of a crane to enable the safe movement of a spider excavator, fieldwork personnel, waste bags, and restoration materials.

Click here for more information on the EM Los Alamos Field Office.

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