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Los Alamos Historical Document Retrieval and Assessment (LAHDRA) Project Description

The primary purpose of the Los Alamos Historical Document Retrieval and Assessment (LAHDRA) project was to identify the information that was available concerning releases of radionuclides and chemicals from Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL). Sited in northern New Mexico and owned by the Department of Energy, LANL had been managed by the University of California since 1943, when the laboratory was born as part of the Manhattan Project to create the first atomic weapons. LANL's responsibilities had expanded since then to include thermonuclear weapon design, high explosives and ordnance development and testing, weapons safety, nuclear reactor research, waste disposal or incineration, chemistry, criticality experimentation, tritium handling, biophysics, and radiobiology.

Environmental Impact of LANL

LANL operations had not proceeded without health hazards or environmental impacts. Close to 30 people were killed in incidents including criticality experiments and accidents with high explosives. Significant quantities of plutonium, uranium, and a wide variety of other toxic substances have been processed and released to the environment in quantities that were not well known. The LAHDRA project team investigated the materials used throughout LANL's history of operations to identify and prioritize releases in terms of their apparent relative importance from the standpoint of potential off-site health effects. Based on the project's findings, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) worked with stakeholders to determine if more detailed assessments of past releases were warranted.

Public Release of Documents

The LAHDRA project's comprehensive study of LANL records provided useful information to CDC and others who were interested in LANL releases and potential public health effects. Possessing the security clearances and "need to know" associated with this study, the project brought about public release of relevant documents that, until now, had been kept from public view simply because no one had authorization to locate them and requested that they be reviewed for public release.

Documents declassified and released from LANL that the project team considered to contain useful information regarding off-site releases are available to the public at the University of New Mexico:

Government Information Department

Zimmerman Library
University of New Mexico
Albuquerque, NM 87135

Documents are summarized in a searchable database.

Public Outreach

Important aspects of this project were its ongoing solicitation of public input, its active outreach efforts in public education, and the independence of the group of scientists and engineers that studied past LANL operations.

The goal of the public outreach program was to present a complete and accurate picture of past operations and releases. The project's Web page and public meetings solicited the public's participation and input. The public was informed about the project's purpose, methods, and progress through publication and distribution of newsletters and fact sheets. The project's responsiveness to the public's input about and awareness of project activities was finalized in the final report.

Project Team

LAHDRA's credentialed and experienced research team was well qualified to recognize and evaluate materials and releases, particularly those that likely led to off-site releases of potential health significance. During the project period, the project team had independently reviewed historical operations and releases at major DOE facilities at Rocky Flats (Colorado), Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory (Idaho), and Oak Ridge (Tennessee).