BY MAIRE O’NEILL
A Los Alamos National Laboratory spokesman confirmed Monday that there was no threat to public health and safety during the treatment of a small amount of unstable material May 2 at Technical Area (TA) 3 by emergency detonation.
During a May 2 walk down, a 100 mL bottle of lithium borohydride in a tetrahydrofuran solution was identified. The bottle was determined to be approximately 15 years old and had crystallization around the cap of the bottle.
A New Mexico Environment Department letter to Peter H. Carson of the LANL Environmental Protection and Compliance Division indicates the crystallization prohibited opening of the bottle for testing and any attempts to sample the visible crystallization may have caused an unintentional initiation of the suspected peroxide crystals. It says this condition posed an imminent and substantial endangerment to human health and the environment and that emergency management personnel determined the safest response was to conduct on-site emergency treatment by detonation in a total containment vessel.
“Based on the facility’s analysis of the incident, there were no releases of hazardous constituents to the environment,” the letter states.
“As part of the Laboratory’s efforts to ensure safe storage of chemicals, we inspect inventories to remove materials that are expired or pose a potential safety risk. During a routine review, we found a small amount of unstable material and determined that the safest way to disposition this waste was by contained destruction. There was no threat to public health and safety and the material was safely dispositioned in accordance with approved environmental regulations,” the Lab spokesman said.
Triad National Security, LLC and the Department of Energy requested approval from NMED for the treatment and received verbal authorization followed by written authorization the next day. The material was placed in a total containment vessel and wrapped in sheet explosives.
“Sufficient quantity and configuration of explosives was utilized to ensure the complete consumption of the material in question. The total containment vessel is gas tight and equipped with a remote sampling system to allow for post-blast analysis of the remaining gasses to confirm the complete consumption of the material. Emergency treatment was effective and no waste residual or other hazardous materials remained after treatment,” the NMED letter states.