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Citizens Watch Newsletter August 2006

"Moon Suits" and Mad Cow for California's Central Valley?

by Loulena Miles and Marylia Kelley
from Tri-Valley CAREs' August 2006 newsletter, Citizen's Watch

Tri-Valley CAREs is holding a public workshop and launching a new petition campaign to ensure the public has a say in determining the fate of the environment in California's Central Valley and Bay Area regions.

This past spring, we revealed that the Livermore Lab and University of Calif. (UC) had stealthily submitted an "expression of interest," to build a massive, 30-acre biodefense complex at Livermore Lab's Site 300 high explosives testing range near Tracy. (See the April/May 2006 Citizen's Watch for details.)

A short flurry of news coverage followed when we challenged the Regents of the University to make public the details of the bid, which UC had submitted to the Dept. of Homeland Security (DHS). Then, silence.

Undue Secrecy

The University rejected Tri-Valley CAREs' public records act request. It's not that UC redacted, or blacked out, certain parts of the bid. No, UC refused to release a single iota of information, not even the cover page, claiming the bid was exempt from public disclosure in its entirety.

In essence, a classified nuclear weapons lab and the University that manages it have submitted a covert plan to what may be the government's most secretive agency to build what may be the site's most dangerous facility. Moreover, Site 300 has already been heavily contaminated by nuclear weapons work. It is on the EPA's "Superfund" list of most polluted locations in the country (see page 4 for details).

We have been able to glean key details about the UC-Livermore Lab proposal from the DHS' federal register notice announcing the biodefense project competition and outlining what the agency requires of the bidders, among other sources.

Moon Suits, Mad Cow and Ebola, too?

If Livermore Lab's Site 300 is chosen to house this new biodefense mega-plex, it will, by definition, include agriculture biocontainment labs for what are euphemistically called "high consequence" bio-agents - including foreign animal diseases and human pathogens requiring Biosafety Level-3 (BSL-3) and BSL-4 research space.

BSL-4 is the highest level of containment, where researchers wear "moon suits" for protection. The BSL-4 designation is reserved for sites that experiment with the deadliest agents, such as the Ebola virus, for which there is no known cure. BSL-3 is the designation that permits sites to experiment with and aerosolize (spray) potentially fatal pathogens, such as live anthrax, Q fever and plague. (Note: Tri-Valley CAREs' bio-warfare agent research lawsuit against the Dept. of Energy involves a planned BSL-3 at the Livermore Lab main site. That suit was filed in 2003, and a decision is expected soon from the court.)

According to documents, the mega-complex of biolabs (e.g., BSL-3s and BSL-4s) would encompass 500,000 square feet - and the biodefense research would also require a minimum of 30-acres in order to carry out biological experiments on livestock such as cattle, sheep and swine. The inclusion of livestock in the proposal makes it extremely likely that mad cow disease and avian flu will be in the mix of deadly agents to be handled, and perhaps genetically modified, at the site.

In addition to secrecy, we are concerned about the types of experiments that would be conducted in the Central Valley, which is our state's ranching and agricultural heartland. A release could devastate the state's economy. Moreover, housing developments and the Tracy City limits are rapidly expanding out toward Site 300.

We also believe that advanced bio-warfare agent research should not be located at nuclear weapons facilities, whether at the Livermore Lab main site or Site 300. Mixing 'bugs and bombs" sends the wrong message to the world. How would the U.S. dispel suspicion about the scope and intent of its bio-warfare agent research when the activities are carried out at a highly classified nuclear weapons site?

This situation could result in a weakening of the Biological Weapons Convention, the international treaty intended to prevent the development and spread of bioweapons. In particular, it could stymie negotiations on verification and enforcement protocols for the treaty.

What Can You Do?

The Dept. of Homeland Security has gathered "expressions of interest." Soon, (possibly as early as September), the agency will be determining its "short list" of sites under consideration. The DHS has formally stated that "community acceptance" will be a key factor in choosing where to site this new biodefense mega-complex. Here is where you come in!

  • We have developed a petition to send to DHS to show community opposition to this plan. We ask that you sign it and have your friends and family sign as well (petition is here, 1.7 mb pdf file). We will send the signed petitions in batches to DHS as we receive them. We will also urge our elected officials to oppose this plan and your signatures will help show that constituents support actions to stop this project.

  • Tri-Valley CAREs is sponsoring a community workshop on September 12 in Tracy. We will have expert panelists on bio-safety and on U.S. biodefense policy. You are invited to come, listen, learn and ask any questions you might have. (See flier here.)

  • Tri-Valley CAREs will need ongoing public support. If Site 300 is chosen for the DHS "short list," there will be environmental documents to analyze, hearings to prepare for, and numerous other activities. Moreover, Tri-Valley CAREs will remain active in the important, overarching policy questions - e.g., how much biodefense is appropriate?, how much is too much?, what capabilities does the U.S. legitimately desire?, what experiments cross the line into bio-weapon development?, and, finally, how will community right to know and our public health be protected? We invite your sustained participation. Please call our office, come to our meetings, visit us on the web and contribute financially to help our work succeed.


  • "Inside the Fence" With Tri-Valley CAREs

    by Marylia Kelley
    from Tri-Valley CAREs' August 2006 newsletter, Citizen's Watch

    Have you ever wanted to go inside the classified fence line at Livermore nuclear weapons Lab and peek into what goes on - without being shot by security?

    Tri-Valley CAREs has set up a tour of Livermore Lab's Site 300 high explosives testing range for you, our members and supporters. The tour will take place on Tue., Aug. 29 from 9 AM - 12:30 PM.

    First, some key information about the site. Tour details will follow.

    What is Site 300?

    The Livermore Lab main site was founded in 1952 to speed the development of the hydrogen bomb and other new weapons. In 1955, the Lab acquired 11 square miles in the hills just off I-580 between Livermore and Tracy and dubbed it "Site 300."

    (In case you are curious, the Livermore Lab main site on East Avenue was called "Site 200" by the weaponeers. The Lawrence Berkeley Lab was "Site 100" in that era. Today, only Site 300 retains the numerical designation.)

    Site 300 is used to process and test high explosives and to test nuclear weapons components. Many of the tests involve full-size nuclear bomb cores wrapped in high explosives - with "depleted" uranium used in place of plutonium-239.

    For years tritium, which is radioactive hydrogen, was also used in the tests, which were conducted outdoors, on open gravel "firing tables." High-speed cameras and other diagnostic equipment recorded the blasts.

    Today these tests continue, including some that are still conducted in the open air.

    Contaminants?

    In 1990, Site 300 was placed on the EPA's Superfund list of most polluted locations in the nation. The main contaminants found in soil and groundwater include: chemical solvents like TCE, high explosive compounds, perchlorate, metals and radioactive materials like tritium and uranium.

    For decades, radioactive and toxic debris from the firing tables and other Lab activities was placed in unlined dump sites at Site 300.

    The largest dumping ground is called the "Pit 7 Complex," where there are 3,200 acres of bulldozed, bare earth trenches (called pits). Some of the highest concentrations of pollutants at Site 300 have leached out of these pits.

    There is a 2-mile long tritium plume, for example, emanating from the unlined pits. Tritium has been measured in groundwater there at a concentration of 2 million picocuries per liter. This is 100 times higher than the state and federal maximum contaminant limit. And, it is 5,000 times higher than the State of California Public Health Goal for tritium.

    The Tour: What Will We See?

    We will visit 4 places on Site 300.

    1. A building near the firing tables where the environment is contaminated with a mix of volatile organics, tritium, metals, high explosive compounds, uranium, perchlorate, dioxin, and furans.

    2. A building where high explosives were processed-and with lots of RDX (a high explosives component) in the groundwater.

    3. An area near Corral Hollow Rd. where volatile organics went off-site and are now being pulled back.

    4. An overlook of the Pit 7 Complex where most (but not all) of the unlined dumps are located.

    Also of note, two of the four areas we will visit are in the part of Site 300 that Livermore Lab wants to use for a controversial new bio-warfare agent research complex (and, yes, the Lab does plan to build this on top of an already polluted Superfund cleanup site).

    We will be accompanied on the tour by Peter Strauss, who is Tri-Valley CAREs' technical advisor. Livermore Lab's Leslie Ferry, who manages the Site 300 cleanup program, has agreed to lead the tour.

    If you are interested in attending, you must RSVP to Tri-Valley CAREs by Mon., Aug. 21, and provide the data required for "badging" (full name, drivers license number, date and place of birth, social security number, etc.).


    Print Bites: All the News That Fits to Print

    from Tri-Valley CAREs' August 2006 newsletter, Citizen's Watch

  • On the Web. Three presentations from Tri-Valley CAREs' July 19, 2006 forum on human health and radiation are now available on our website at www.trivalleycares.org. On our site you will find, Abel Russ' powerpoint covering the biological effects of ionizing radiation and some of the recent epidemiological studies; Marylia Kelley's presentation on tritium and its past and proposed uses at Livermore Lab; and Loulena Miles' talk on plutonium in Livermore.

  • Plutonium Sludge. The Alameda County Plutonium Action Taskforce, which consists of state and local health agencies and community groups, has released 7 fact sheets on the plutonium from Livermore Lab that resulted in contaminated sludge, which was then given away to unsuspecting area residents for use in lawns and gardens until the mid-1970s. To obtain copies of the fact sheets, go to the Alameda Public Health Dept. website at www.acphd.org/user/data/datareports.asp.

  • Hacking DOE. Unidentified hackers broke into Dept. of Energy computers and stole personal data for 1,500 employees and contractors. Worse, it took nearly a year for DOE to realize it had been hacked. And, then, the official in charge, Linton Brooks, kept silent for 8 months. According to news reports, Brooks did not inform DOE's own cybersecurity personnel or his boss, the Secretary of Energy, of the break in. Nor were the affected employees notified. Rep. Joe Barton, Chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee told Brooks, "I would hope you resign before you have to be removed from office." To date Brooks has neither quit nor been fired.


  • BE STRATEGIC

    from Tri-Valley CAREs' August 2006 newsletter, Citizen's Watch

    Tri-Valley CAREs meets annually to plan our strategy and sketch out the goals we will collectively seek to accomplish. At the retreat, we also prioritize our programs for the next 12 months. And, we revisit our goals and program priorities from last year's retreat and contemplate our progress and successes.

    DATE: Saturday, August 19, 2006
    TIME: 9:45 AM to 4 PM (Bring something to share for a potluck lunch.)
    PLACE: United Christian Church 1886 College Ave., Livermore
    WHO SHOULD COME? Tri-Valley CAREs' board members, group members, staff and volunteers. Join us to give peace a strategy -- and work with us to carry it out.
    WHAT DO YOU NEED TO DO? RSVP to (925) 443-7148. Space is limited. We will send you a packet with guidance on how to do strategic planning, the agenda for the retreat, and other relevant information.
    Help set goals & strategies for a respected, effective, "watchdog" group -- Tri-Valley CAREs.

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