September 16, 1999
Fort Sumner water contaminated with radioactive elements
The Associated Press
FORT SUMNER, N.M. (AP)
- Fort Sumner's drinking water is contaminated with
alpha radiation - and state environmental officials have known it since 1995,
but took no action.
The contamination was
first found in 1995 when the bureau ran a radiochemical
test on the village's wells, said Robert Gallegos, manager of the state
Environment Department's Drinking Water Bureau.
"We apologize. We should
have taken action when he found the problem four
years ago," he told village councilors Monday. "It was an item that fell
through the bureaucratic sieve."
The 1995 test found the
alpha radiation levels in the water exceeded
acceptable levels set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
"These levels don't present
an immediate danger to the public, but are a
strong indication that this problem should be addressed," said Stephen Wust,
program field manager in the bureau's Clovis field office.
The office will have to
run more tests to determine what radioactive isotope
is responsible for the problem before officials can figure out how to treat
the water, he said. The bureau will test for three probable culprits first.
Treatment options and
disposing of the waste created by treatment will be
expensive, said Andy Edmondson, water resource engineer for the bureau.
Gallegos said the village could apply for federal grants to help pay the
The Clovis office notified
village officials about the problem in 1995, but
did not stress that the village was required to notify the public, Gallegos
said. Nor did the bureau follow up on the contamination finding, he said.
The office in the past
year ran quarterly tests to determine whether the
contamination would persist.
Quarterly tests showed
contamination levels averaged 25 picocuries per liter,
but one test was as high as 37, said Lisa Brown, a water specialist in the
Clovis office. The EPA's acceptable level is 15 picocuries per liter.
Alpha radiation is slow-moving
and can be stopped by a single sheet of paper,
Wust said. However, ingesting or breathing large quantities over long periods
could cause health risks, including cancer, because radioactive particles
could lodge in the body's soft tissues, he said.