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Loggers Told to Avoid Some Trees

Workers are warned about radioactivity from nuclear experiments carried out in New Mexico in the 1940s and '50s.

November 29, 2002|From Reuters

LOS ALAMOS, N.M. — Workers thinning forests near Los Alamos National Laboratory have been told not to remove trees cut down in certain areas because they might be radioactive.

"The lab has identified a few patches in a zone not heavily forested that was surveyed before and after experiments in the 1940s and 1950s," said Jim Danneskiold, a spokesman for the lab where the first atomic bomb was built in 1945. "As a precaution, we've told them [workers] to steer clear of those areas."

The trees are in Bayo Canyon, about 40 miles northwest of Santa Fe and popular with horseback riders and hikers. The site, formerly known as Technical Area 10, was used in the 1940s and 1950s as a place where scientists at the nuclear lab studied explosions.

Danneskiold said the area where radioactive contamination has been detected is a 1-acre site where all the trees were blown away during tests on explosives.

That area has been fenced off to workers and the general public. The lab is warning workers not to remove wood thinned in the 30 surrounding acres as a precaution against possible contamination.

"There is no risk to recreational users," Danneskiold said.

But not everyone agrees.

"Recreational users should be worried. Breathing that dust is not good," said Greg Mello, who heads the Los Alamos Study Group, which monitors lab activity.

Hundreds of homes and thousands of acres burned in May 2000 when fire ravaged the area near Los Alamos and threatened the laboratory.

Since then, forest and county officials have been thinning parts of the pine forest to reduce the risk of fire, said Bill Armstrong, a forester with the U.S. Forest Service.

Trees collected on laboratory property from areas where experiments never occurred are being given to the public as firewood, Danneskiold said.

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