Legacy Waste Cleanup Contractor N3B Moves Transition Waste Off The Hill

Legacy waste cleanup contractor N3B staff pump purged well water from tanks into a tanker for transport off Los Alamos National Laboratory. Photo Courtesy N3B

A map showing the locations of transition material being removed from Los Alamos National Laboratory and Los Alamos County property by legacy waste cleanup contractor N3B. Courtesy N3B


Some 211,136 gallons of purged well water and drilling fluids, 40 cubic yards of industrial waste and another 60 cubic yards of petroleum-contaminated soil left on multiple environmental remediation (ER) sites at Los Alamos National Laboratory and Los Alamos County property have been removed by legacy waste cleanup contractor N3B, according to the company’s Transition Waste Project Manager Erik Loechell.

Loechell told members of the Northern New Mexico Citizens Advisory Board during their virtual meeting Wednesday that between January and April 2018 while N3B personnel were conducting their initial walkdown of Department of Energy ER sites they found leftover material or junk scattered across multiple sites. The analogy he used was that N3B was moving into a new home and there was a bunch of junk left over that the prior owner never got rid of.

“So my job as project manager is to get rid of the junk so that we can fully enjoy our space,” he said.

Disposal of the “transitional” material in N3B’s contract so a contract change was added to account for the additional work and funding was added to the FT2021 budget.

Loechell noted that one of the largest categories was 280,000 gallons purged water and drilling fluids stored in poly tanks and Bakers tanks at different locations including Well Pad R3 which was on Los Alamos County property and Well Pad R67 across from LANSCE facility at the Lab.

“In large part, we found that the water had been sampled and had analytical information associated with it. It just never had been disposed of or land-applied. The game plan was to land-apply the water but we had new groundwater permit requirements for PFOS (perfluorooctoanesulfonic acid) and PFOA (perfluoroctanoic acid) which are constituents that held that ability up. Because our old analytical information did not include PFOS and PFOA, we had to wait until we had that capability back on line so that we could recommence land application,” he said.

There was also a large quantity of industrial material consisting of everything from leftover drill cuttings, concrete from well pads that were broken up, old pit liners from pit mobilizations, PVC pipe in 55-gallon drums, old permeable reactive barriers used in groundwater sampling and drilling samples from several different Material Disposal Areas all spread across 10 different sites.

In addition, N3B discovered petroleum-contaminated soil in three roll off bins at TA-21 and Mortendad Canyon which were likely from gas spills or a vehicle that sprang a hydraulic leak.

“Our waste management coordinators were able to find analytical information on the soil and determine the type and concentrations of petroleum to develop an offsite waste profile. In the state of New Mexico, petroleum contaminated soils  of a particular concentration are deemed New Mexico Special Waste and it has 90 days to be dispositioned but we were well under the 90-day allotment to get it off site,” Loechell said.  

N3B also found material at a satellite accumulation which they combined with other material from Mortendad Canyon and got it all off site.

“The benefit is the surface water program and our groundwater programs can now start from scratch so that when they do everything they need to do they don’t have to worry about my material competing with their material on the 55-gallon storage limit for an SAA,” he said.

Pit liners from old groundwater pits that were demobilized and had some trace manmade radionuclides adhering to them were also analyzed and will be disposed of as low-level radioactive waste. Some 15,000 gallons of water was on Los Alamos County property in Pueblo Canyon and at several locations under Triad National Security. N3B wanted all the transitional material gone because it’s harder to accomplish tasks when the waste is taking up space. Because of the sheer quantity of material involved, analytical information was still needed and with the new data, N3B has the potential to land-apply some of the water or develop a pathway for disposal at off-site facilities. Some containers of solid materials have to be opened, investigated and possible repackaged also for off-site disposal.

“We want to make sure we don’t shop anything off the hill that shouldn’t leave the hill,” Loechell said.

He noted that it is a lot of work to keep track of all the materials.

“It’s a big logistical undertaking. When we do want to proceed with work on Los Alamos County property, for example, we have to make sure we have authorization to go on the property, that they know exactly what we’re going to do and when we’re going to do it,” he said.

N3B is getting more efficient at getting the waste water moving off site, Loechell said. Some 20,000 gallons is being shipped off the hill at a rate of 4,000-5,000 gallons per truck. He hopes to have all transitional waste gone by August of this year.