RIO RANCHO, N.M. (KRQE) – The New Mexico Environment Department is investigating after a concerned citizen raised questions about potentially hazardous radioactive material dumped at the Rio Rancho landfill.

“I just don’t think that we can take chances,” said Eddie Paulsgrove, a retired Geologist with the Army Corps of Engineers. “We don’t know what’s down there.” Paulsgrove is concerned about radioactive material that made its way into Rio Rancho’s waste management landfill near Northern and 33rd Street.

“Within a mile radius of this landfill are three schools, a preschool, an assisted living facility, numerous homes as well as businesses,” said Paulsgrove. “Breathing it is very dangerous and they’re setting it up for a wind-driven vector if we don’t have some assurances that it’s safe.”

Paulsgrove says water quality reports showed naturally occurring radioactive materials were present in saltwater produced from two deep wells drilled west of Rio Rancho back in 2007. It was part of a desalinization project for a proposed housing development.

“It’s something formed in nature that they drew up from the ground, put it into a pond, let it dry out, and then took the dried out radioactive material…and took it to the landfill,” Paulsgrove explained.

“As rainwater and groundwater infiltrate through the landfill, the salt dissolves,” said Paulsgrove. “The arsenic, the radium does not dissolve.”

Paulsgrove wants to know if there are levels that could be harmful to humans and especially people that live nearby. KRQE News 13 took those concerns to the New Mexico Environment Department.

“We don’t have any evidence at this time to show that there’s an imminent threat to human health, but we’re double-checking all of the regulatory requirements and making sure that our oversight is thorough,” explained Stephanie Stringer, Resource Protection Division Director with the NMED.

Stringer said the public shouldn’t worry about the wind blowing around harmful fumes. “There’s not a pathway to human exposure at this time,” said Stringer.

Whether the radioactive material is actually hazardous “waste” is something the department is investigating. “Soil can contain radioactive material, it doesn’t make it radioactive waste that would prevent it from being disposed at a landfill,” she said.

“We are absolutely concerned about the protection of public health,” said Stringer. She said the NMED is “Doing everything we can to identify areas where risk may occur.”

Stringer also said the NMED is investigating whether any regulations were violated and if so, they’ll take swift action and keep the city updated.

The NMED also provided KRQE News 13 with the following statement:

“In July 2020, NMED received concerns from a Rio Rancho resident about the disposal of solid material from the Rio West well site to the local landfill in 2018. Based on this inquiry, NMED began investigating the matter. On July 28, NMED received a letter from Rio Rancho Mayor Hull about the same matter and conveyed to the Mayor’s office that the Department was looking into the matter and would provide the Mayor with additional information. NMED continues to carefully investigate the matter to determine whether there is a public health risk from the 2018 landfill disposal, including whether the material meets the definition of “radioactive waste,” and respond accordingly. NMED will communicate directly with local officials, including Mayor Hull’s office, and concerned residents to explain our findings and any planned follow-up actions.”

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