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Entries in air quality (3)

Thursday
Jun302011

Los Alamos Fire: First Air Samples Show No Elevated Radiation

Joe Raedle/Getty Images(LOS ALAMOS, N.M.) -- The wildfire that surrounds the nuclear lab in Los Alamos, New Mexico, has grown to at least 61,000 acres amid mounting concerns about what might be in the smoke that's visible from space.

Such fear has prompted fire crews to set their own fires along the perimeter of the lab.  So far, the strategy is working.  The first air samples show lots of smoke, but no signs of elevated radiation.

"Those results show that what we see in this fire is exactly what we see in any fire across New Mexico," said Charles McMillan, the lab's director.

Environmental officials aren't taking any chances.  The Environmental Protection Agency is bringing in dozens of air monitors all around the state, along with a special airplane that takes instant radiation samples.  So far, officials have not been able to find anything amiss.

"Our facilities and nuclear material are protected and safe," McMillan told ABC News.

Some observers are worried not just about the barrels of nuclear waste stored at the lab, but also what's in the canyons that surround the sprawling complex.  Nuclear tests were performed in the canyons dating back to the 1940s.

"The trees have grown up during that time frame and the soil could be contaminated," said Rita Bates of the New Mexico Environment Department.  "If it gets heated and that stuff goes airborne, then we are concerned about that."

The canyons were a dumping ground for radioactive materials decades ago, but are now open to the public and are considered safe.

Still, one graduate student armed with a Geiger counter took to YouTube to show there was no shortage of metal or radioactivity.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Jun292011

EPA Testing for Radiation in New Mexico Wildfire

Joe Raedle/Getty Images(LOS ALAMOS, N.M.) -- The wildfire that surrounds the nuclear lab in Los Alamos, New Mexico, has grown to at least 61,000 acres amid mounting concerns about what might be in the smoke from the blaze that's so big it's visible from space.

Such fear has prompted the Environmental Protection Agency to bring in air monitors, along with a special airplane that checks for radiation levels. So far officials have not been able to find anything.

"Our facilities and nuclear material are protected and safe," Laboratory Director Dr. Charles McMillan told ABC News.

The Los Alamos facility -- the birthplace of the atomic bomb -- was shrouded in secrecy long before it was surrounded by smoke after the Las Conchas fire began Sunday.

"It contains approximately 20,000 barrels of nuclear waste," former top security official Glen Walp said.  "It's not contained within a concrete, brick and mortar-type building, but rather in a sort of fabric-type building that a fire could easily consume."

"Potential is high for a major calamity if the fire would reach these areas," he added.

Reports have indicated that the flames from the 95-square-mile fire have reached as close as 50 feet from the grounds.  With a wildfire this close, lab officials, along with government officials such as New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez, are trying to reassure the public of the plant's safety.

"I'm confident in saying that they are committed to making it safe," Martinez told ABC News.

After a mass evacuation, the city of Los Alamos remains a ghost town.  Most of its 12,000 residents were evacuated Monday, some leaving their sprinklers on to protect their homes.

Still, according to Police Chief Wayne Torpy, about 150 die-hard residents have stayed behind, unfazed by the danger presented by their nuclear neighbor.

Firefighters have made progress in the past few days, and have said that the risk of the flames reaching radioactive material is slim.  Still, they caution that winds Wednesday could change, as could their level of confidence.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Sunday
Jun122011

Wallow Fire: Residents Cautioned About Hazardous Air Quality

Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images(PINETOP, Ariz.) -- Health officials in New Mexico and Arizona are warning residents that air quality conditions could worsen as enormous wildfires rage on in the two states.

The Wallow Fire has been burning in Arizona for two weeks and has burned nearly 700 square miles, destroyed dozens of homes and displaced thousands of people.

On Sunday authorities gave the all-clear to about 8,000 residents of Eagar and Springerville Arizona, who were previously evacuated, to return home. Other mountain communities like Alpine, Nutrioso and Greer are looking at around five more days before they can go home.

Even with the green light to return to homes, officials caution that there still may be some air quality issues in and around those neighborhoods where people are returning to.

New Mexico residents as far away as Santa Fe and Albuquerque are being cautioned, and more at-risk groups such as children, seniors, pregnant women and those with already-existing respiratory diseases are advised to take extra precautions.

With approximately 3,000 firefighters battling the blaze, containment has been fluctuating between five percent and six percent.

As the fire continues to spread, concern is growing that the fire may endanger two major power lines that bring electricity to West Texas from Arizona.

Lighter winds on Thursday and Friday allowed firefighters to make more progress, but winds picked up again on Saturday and high winds are expected Sunday.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio







ABC News Radio