Protect Vulnerable NM Communities: Halt Radioactive Tritium Release from LANL

Protect Vulnerable NM Communities: Halt Radioactive Tritium Release from LANL

July 27, 2023
Petition to
New Mexico Environmental Department
Signatures: 2,227Next Goal: 2,500
64 people signed this week

Why this petition matters

Started by Tewa Women United


As community members, friends, and allies of Pueblo and land-based Peoples who live downwind and downstream from Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), we are extremely concerned about the potential venting of four flanged tritium waste containers before the end of the federal fiscal year (Sept 30, 2023).

We call on all of our congressional delegations, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA,) and the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) directors to put an immediate halt and suspension to these planned tritium releases for the following reasons:

  • Tritium is a radioactive and unstable isotope of the element hydrogen. Tritium can be produced naturally from interactions of cosmic rays with gases in the upper atmosphere, but it is also a by-product of nuclear reactors. Tritium is used in nuclear weapons to boost their efficiency and destructive yield.
  • Tritium easily bonds with oxygen to form radioactive (or “tritiated”) water (HTO) that can impact any living organism. Inside the molecular sieves of the four Flanged Tritium Waste Containers (FTWCs) is mainly trapped HTO. Some or all of this trapped tritium has been released from the sieves and is now free HTO. LANL is proposing to vent because the action of radiation on water and organic compounds (called “radiolysis”) has disintegrated them creating (non-radioactive) hydrogen gas and oxygen. The pressure is building up and the hydrogen and oxygen represent a hazardous and potentially explosive mix; hence the applications to release the gases into the environment near Area G, the waste disposal site within a mile of White Rock, New Mexico, where the containers are currently stored. 
  • Late summer and early fall are active times when land-based communities adjacent to LANL participate in cultural activities, are outdoors harvesting their fields and gardens, and getting children ready for a new school year. Nearly all atmospherically released tritium gas is converted into tritiated water and thus can enter the food chain.
  • All hydrogen-containing molecules, such as water (H20), can take up tritium in the environment. Most atmospherically released tritium gas rapidly converts into tritiated water vapor and thus can readily enter the biosphere. As it cycles through the biosphere, the tritium concentration in water vapor in the air would contaminate open water surfaces, biota downwind and downstream of Area G, as well as wild and cultivated foods and cultural resources in the nearby Pueblos, not to mention people themselves.
  • Tritium can be a dangerous radiation hazard for everyone. Humans can become tritiated not only by skin absorption but also by inhalation of contaminated water vapor and by ingestion of contaminated food and water.  Our bodies cannot distinguish safe water from tritiated water. When tritium unites with carbon in the human body, plants, or animals, it becomes organically bound and can remain in the human body for 450 to 650 days. One study found traces of tritium in the body 10 years after exposure.
    Tritium can also cross placental boundaries. Risks to Pregnancy: Because tritium is an isotope of hydrogen, it easily bonds with oxygen to form radioactive (or “tritiated”) water that living organisms, including fetuses, can uptake. Official dose models significantly underestimate tritium doses and risks, due to the numerous unusual properties of tritium including its short range and “weak” beta particles, and extremely high mobility and exchangeability in binding with organic materials. Tritium also has the ability to permanently damage DNA.
  • LANL has refused to provide the community with an analysis of  alternatives to venting.
  • Tritium can collect in fetal tissue at twice the concentration as it does in maternal tissue. Healthy pregnancies lead to healthy futures. And this is why regulations dealing with releases of radioactivity need to be reframed to prioritize human health and, more importantly, protect those most vulnerable, focusing on Indigenous and land-based Pregnant families as the regulatory standard.  
  • The EPA must advocate for the changing of exposure standards to protect those most vulnerable - refer to Tewa Women United’s Nava To’i Jiya (Land-working Mother) model and Reference Girl, created by the Gender and Radiation Impact Project. 

When there has not even been a thorough discussion of all potential solutions, there should not be a rush to put our communities in danger. The federal standards for tritium exposure are not protective of land-based people of color, pregnant families, or infants - all of whom are at greater risk of being impacted by radioactive toxicity. 

We, the people who have signed this petition, demand that the planned venting of radioactive tritium be put on hold. We demand that instead of opting for the path of least resistance, LANL do the work of finding innovative and comprehensive solutions that seek to avoid harm, not perpetuate it. Poor waste management, such as in the case of these flanged tritium waste containers, puts frontline communities with legacy impacts at greater risk of harm. 

For decades, Pueblo and the other communities in the vicinity of LANL, including the city of Espanola, have been placed at extreme risk. Our communities have a right to clean air, water, and soil, as well as health and generational wellness. Moving forward with this venting proposal would be an irresponsible act that would endanger the lives of people who are already coping with a great number of problems related to their environment and their health.

64 people signed this week
Signatures: 2,227Next Goal: 2,500
64 people signed this week