White Sands Test Facility

Site History:

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) White Sands Test Facility (WSTF, “the Site”) has supported testing of space flight equipment and hazardous materials for nearly 50 years. Past activities included developing, qualifying, refurbishing, and testing spacecraft propulsion systems, subsystems, and ground support equipment; investigating flight hardware anomalies; testing materials and components; and performing hazard and failure analyses. The Site currently includes propulsion testing facilities for rocket systems; materials and components laboratories for testing the quality of space flight materials; and technical services offices that provide expertise for developing ground support equipment. As a result of Site operations, hazardous substances, including volatile organic compounds, were disposed of and released to the environment at the Site, and have contributed to the contamination of groundwater and possibly other natural resources.

Location:

The Site is located in Doña Ana County approximately 18 miles northeast of the town of Las Cruces, New Mexico.

Trustees:

State of New Mexico

Overview:

In accordance with the Natural Resource Damage Assessment regulations at 43 CFR Part 11, the State of New Mexico has prepared the Preassessment Screen Determination, issued a Notice of Intent to perform a natural resource damage assessment and has released the Damage Assessment Plan.

Case Status:

Preassessment Screen Determination

As described in the Preassessment Screen Determination: White Sands Test Facility, operations at the Site released hazardous substances, including volatile organic compounds, that have contributed to the contamination of groundwater and possibly other natural resources for which the State is a Trustee. The State has concluded that the determination criteria identified in Natural Resource Damage Assessment Regulations, 43 CFR § 11.23(e), have been met for the Site and has initiated a Natural Resource Damage Assessment. 

Damage Assessment

A Natural Resource Damage Assessment evaluates the impacts of releases of hazardous substances on natural resources and the services provided by those resources. Unlike the ongoing environmental remediation process, which focuses on removal or containment of contaminants that pose a threat to human health and the environment, the Natural Resource Damage Assessment process focuses on the restoration of resources and their services to the condition they would have been in, absent the release of the hazardous substances.

ONRT is currently preparing to finalize the Damage Assessment Plan (Plan). This Plan will evaluate the impacts of releases of hazardous substances on natural resources and the services provided by those resources.  The Plan represents the State’s current understanding of the activities that may be necessary to identify and quantify natural resource injuries resulting from the release of hazardous substances from the White Sands Test Facility, and to determine the appropriate scale and scope of restoration compensation. Inclusion of an activity within the Plan does not guarantee that it will be undertaken, and efforts and analyses not included within the Plan may be deemed necessary at a later date. As such, the Plan is not intended to limit the studies that may be undertaken in the course of the assessment, but to provide a framework within which the Trustee will prioritize efforts and implement the Natural Resource Damage Assessment.

ONRT released the Draft White Sands Test Facility Natural Resource Damage Assessment Plan (Draft Plan) in November 2016, and opened the public comment period for 30 days thereafter.  In addition, the ONRT hosted a public meeting in Las Cruces on December 14, 2016 which provided the public an opportunity for dialogue as well as written comments on the Draft Plan. No comments were received from the public, nor from the Responsible Party–NASA WSTF, and therefore no significant or substantial changes were made to the Plan.