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The Networker: Downstream from Los Alamos December 2018

Downstream from Los Alamos:
A Workshop and Hearing Report
Volume 23 (7) December 2018

" It is a wonderful story of how powerful, skillful coalitions employ technical expertise like ours and how these collaborations change the game."

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Friends of SEHN,

When SEHN was created 24 years ago, the larger environmental community saw the pressing need for two things: reframing how science was used in environmental health policy and grassroots groups' need for technical assistance. SEHN was formed to meet those two needs, which, of course, are closely coupled.

We began work on the precautionary principle and introduced it into public health and environmental policy. This reshaped the conversation on scientific uncertainty and developed a robust, ethical decision-making process. But we have always done this work in the crucible of hands-on, grassroots work. Grassroots groups then and now were working to protect their health, the water, the land, and future generations from the scourges of toxic chemicals, pipelines, mining and so much more. They needed scientists to bring unique expertise to their struggles and we help find that expertise or provide it in-house.

Ted Schettler (a physician and public health expert) and I (a lawyer) often tag team the technical assistance we bring to coalitions and community groups. I help make legal arguments and review legal documents to find hooks for the precautionary principle and the public trust responsibilities of government while Ted analyzes the science and provides new ways to make the scientific case for precautionary actions.

In this issue of the Networker, Ted writes about a recent collaboration in New Mexico over groundwater contamination from Los Alamos National Laboratory. It is a wonderful story of how powerful, skillful coalitions employ technical expertise like ours and how these collaborations change the game.

This is one example of a SEHN partnership. We are also involved in helping to stop a 15,000 hog confined animal feeding operation in Iowa by showing the human health problems associated with massive quantities of pig manure. We are working to stop pipelines and all the corollary ills of pipelines, from sex trafficking to water pollution to agricultural land damage.

Here’s Ted’s story about Los Alamos. Share it with your budding scientists and lawyers. So often young professionals want to know how to find meaning and make a difference in their work. Here’s one story of how two of us use our expertise in concert with skilled, powerful coalitions to protect the Earth and all our kin.

Carolyn Raffensperger
Executive Director

PS Thank you to all who have donated to SEHN in our end of year appeal. You make this work possible.

Downstream from Los Alamos: A Workshop and Hearing Report
Ted Schettler

Years ago people began coming together to confront threats from an unprecedented mixture of hazardous chemicals and radionuclides released into the environment during decades of nuclear weapons development at the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) in northern New Mexico. Using various strategies to protect their water, land, air and communities, diverse coalitions achieved a number of remarkable successes, despite often facing long odds.

This past summer Tewa Women United, a multicultural and multiracial organization founded and led by Native women, in collaboration with Communities for Clean Water, invited us at the Science and Environmental Health Network to join them in planning a workshop on the precautionary principle as one of their series of events called “Protecting the Most Vulnerable”. The purpose was to help people from local communities prepare to participate in a public hearing addressing New Mexico Environment Department’s (NMED) response to toxic chromium, perchlorate and high explosive RDX plumes contaminating regional drinking water aquifers.

We dove into the lengthy history of contamination, who is responsible, what is being done, and uncertainties about cleanup efforts. Carolyn Raffensperger traveled to Los Alamos in August to tour the area where aquifers are contaminated and meet with community groups. We supplied fact sheets on specific contaminants. Then we participated in the workshop at the Northern Rio Grande National Heritage Center, in Alcalde on October 21. The public hearing on the permit was in Los Alamos on November 7 and 8. Beyond important technical details, the workshop and hearing raised larger questions about how best to protect land, water, communities and cultures from harm and who should decide. READ MORE

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For the full Downstream from Los Alamos; A Workshop and Hearing Report, click here!