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Citizens Watch Newsletter December 2004

Feds Unleash Bad Science

by Marylia Kelley
from Tri-Valley CAREs' December 2004 newsletter, "Citizen's Watch"

Independent scientists, retired Livermore Lab physicists and community organizations all agree that the report recently issued by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) is fatally flawed and draws unsupported conclusions that are at odds with commonly accepted principles of radiation exposure. The federal agency's assessment of the public health impacts of the Livermore Lab main site presents a skewed and incomplete picture of the risks posed by numerous radioactive and toxic releases.

ATSDR's message to Livermore residents essentially reads "don't worry, be happy" about plutonium found in public parks and home gardens, toxic wastes dumped into the groundwater aquifer and radioactive tritium plumes in the air, rain water and plants. The report posits that there is "no apparent health hazard" from any of these activities at Livermore Lab.

According to Marion Fulk, a retired Livermore Lab physicist, the ATSDR's report is full of "junk science." Epidemiologist Dr. Steven Wing, of the Univ. of North Carolina, called it "a biased review." Important scientific considerations are totally omitted, Wing said.

Scientists at Clark Univ. in Massachusetts conducted a review of ATSDR's assessment of two tritium accidents at the Livermore Lab that spewed 650,000 curies of radiation into the air -- with elevated levels of radioactivity sampled by Livermore scientists as far away as Fresno, California.

The team of Dr. Robert Goble and Abel Russ wrote: "We found that the ATSDR's treatment of risks from radiation exposure contradicts standard practice as described in the National Academy of Sciences BEIR V report, in various reports by international commissions and in ATSDR's own Toxicological Profile for Ionizing Radiation." The two Clark Univ. scientists calculated that the radiation released from the tritium accidents exceeded the dose that the EPA would consider "safe." They found that ATSDR had used bad methodology and an inappropriately high "allowable limit" in order to understate health risks.

The community members of the ATSDR Site Team, including Tri-Valley CAREs, had tried repeatedly to correct errors in ATSDR's assessment while it was still in draft form. The agency ignored community input just as it ignored criticism from the scientists noted above -- and from many others. Therefore, Tri-Valley CAREs and all of the community members of the ATSDR Site Team tendered their resignations and boycotted the sham community meeting set up by ATSDR to release the report.

"ATSDR has come to conclusions that are not supported by the available data," explained Tri-Valley CAREs' Marylia Kelley. "They are doing actual harm to the community because they are saying no follow-up is necessary when, in many cases, it's warranted," she continued.

For example, the CA Dept. of Health Services had already produced a solid, credible review of the plutonium-contaminated sludge problem in Livermore. The state concluded that follow-up action was warranted, given the long half-life of plutonium, the numerous data gaps and the scientific uncertainty. The ATSDR simply rolled over all of the missing data and uncertainty to conclude that the plutonium-contaminated sludge posed no problem -- and that no further investigation is needed to find out which homes in the community may have received contaminated sludge and in what concentrations.

And, another example: In 1987, the EPA placed Livermore Lab's main site on its Superfund list of most polluted sites in the country. Estimates of the time it will take to clean up the toxic and radioactive waste already in the soil and groundwater range from 50 to 72 years. Yet, ATSDR summarily states the polluted groundwater plumes pose no hazard. Tritium in the air, plutonium in the soil, chemicals in the water --and nothing poses any risk, says ATSDR.

If this were merely about a poorly done report, it might be funny. But, Lab officials jumped all over themselves to praise the ATSDR report, and then spent a bunch of our tax dollars to promote it. Many of our community members received not one but three letters in the mail from Livermore Lab touting the ATSDR report.

Apparently, Livermore Lab management was equally busy misdirecting elected officials with the ATSDR's conclusions. Shortly after the report's release, Rep. Ellen Tauscher sent scores of her constituents a letter with these "findings."

If Lab management truly valued science, it would have publicly rejected the ATSDR's conclusions as flawed and overbroad. Instead, the Lab embraced them for their public relations utility. Shame.

Obtaining Justice for Sick Nuclear Workers

by Inga Olson
from Tri-Valley CAREs' December 2004 newsletter, "Citizen's Watch"

There are two, new important advances in our work: (1) Tri-Valley CAREs, the Livermore Sick Worker Support Group, Congresswoman Ellen Tauscher, Senator Dianne Feinstein and allies across the country pulled together and won key improvements to the government's compensation program for nuclear weapons workers made ill by on-the-job exposures, and (2) a national Radiation and Worker Safety Advisory Board meeting is coming to Livermore on December 13 -15, and you are invited to the public sessions.

A Little Background

Here is some information on sick workers at the Dept. of Energy (DOE) facilities, such as Livermore Lab, Sandia Lab and 35 other weapons-related facilities in California. In the fall of 1999, for the first time in history, DOE admitted that it had placed its workers in harm's way without their knowledge, consent or adequate protections. In Oct. 2000, Congress-on a bipartisan basis-enacted the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act (EEOICPA) to compensate these workers. The law covers employees at 350 facilities in 42 states.

The compensation program is split into two parts: part one is called Subtitle B and is run by the Dept. of Labor (DOL). It pays $150,000 and medical benefits for sick workers exposed to radiation, beryllium, and/or silica. The second part of the compensation program, originally called Subtitle D and administered by DOE, is supposed to help eligible workers who were exposed to other toxic substances obtain state workers' compensation benefits. The DOE has performed Subtitle D poorly, with approximately $95 million spent and only 20-30 workers compensated nationwide.

Congress Improves the Program

Tri-Valley CAREs and the Sick Worker & Family Member Support Group worked successfully with the groups across the country to educate Congress about problems with the DOE portion of the compensation program. Rep. Ellen Tauscher led a successful fight in the House to support the stronger of two amendments proposed to improve the program. The Congress passed the stronger amendment, in spite of opposition from both DOE officials and the President. The amendment was recently signed into law.

This new amendment renames Subtitle D to E, and moves it from DOE to the DOL, where 99% of the claims have already been administered. One problem with the former arrangement was that DOE had no mechanism to pay up to 50% of claimants. Under the new amendment, all valid claims will be paid by the DOL. In addition, some workers who got sick from working in former Atomic Weapons Employer (AWE) buildings where residual contamination remained can now apply for benefits. And, very importantly, an Office of the Ombudsman will be established to assist claimants. Taken together, these are real steps on the road to obtaining justice for sick workers, widows of deceased workers who were killed by on-the-job exposures and other family members.

Radiation and Worker Safety Board

The second new development for sick workers is that the Radiation and Worker Safety Advisory Board that oversees important aspects of the compensation program will be meeting from December 13-15. This meeting will be in Livermore, rather than San Francisco, at our request. On two of the three days, there will be an opportunity for public comments. Tri-Valley CAREs is calling on members of the Sick Worker & Family Member Support Group, claimants, and other current and former DOE contractor and subcontractor employees to come to the meeting and share the ways in which you believe you, a family member or co-worker were exposed to radioactive and hazardous substances at work that may have resulted in illness or death.

In addition to discussing job descriptions, work processes and materials that may have resulted in occupational exposures, we ask that you also identify problems regarding such things as: deficiencies in monitoring, badging or personal protective equipment; unsafe work practices; accidents, leaks or spills; and/or loss of medical, travel, dose or employment records. The Advisory Board must be made aware of anything you know that can help ensure that the site profile currently being conducted at Livermore Lab, and anticipated soon for Sandia Lab, will thoroughly and accurately represent the ways in which workers were exposed to contamination.

Importance of the Site Profile

A Site Profile contains information that is used to understand the activities and practices of a facility. Site Profiles describe the history of a DOE site and identify hazards by building, process, occupation and time frames and summarize this information into a job-exposure matrix. The voluminous information gathered about the site is distilled and extracted into a set of "agreed facts," that are then assembled into an indexed binder. This will serve as the backbone for making decisions on claims. This process is work intensive on the front-end, but reduces physician hours later and provides a scientific basis for credible decisions, which are consistent from claim to claim. The site profile allows common types of cases to be processed in a wholesale, rather than retail, manner. Simply put, the Site Profile is critical because if it is left incomplete, workers and family members who deserve compensation may have their claims denied for lack of "proof" there were hazards, releases and/or incomplete records.

Lab Workers, Diverse Tasks, Lost Records

Because work at the nuclear weapons labs involved many different types of experiments and a wide variety of deadly substances, it is all the more difficult to thoroughly chart the problems that may have caused exposures. These exposures may have started with the construction work, then exposures during "routine" operations and accident scenarios and culminating in additional exposures during the demolition of the equipment, process or entire facility. In contrast, employee exposures at the DOE production plants, or at certain nuclear tests, are somewhat easier to identify because there were hundreds or thousands of people working on one particular activity rather than smaller teams working on a variety of activities. The institutional memory at the weapons labs, like Lawrence Livermore, is more difficult to recreate with available documents. Lab worker input thus becomes even more critical in order to achieve a complete picture of past work processes and their exposure potential.

The Site Profiles are not only important to fill in the gaps due to incomplete, inadequate or lost radiation monitoring data; they are imperative to document toxic exposure. Individual toxic exposure monitoring at DOE sites prior to 1989 is nearly nonexistent. Without information from the workers to supplement the exposure records and analysis, decisions will be biased against the very same workers and families whom Congress intended to assist.

Public Comment Periods

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) is responsible for Site Profiles and welcomes comments from interested stakeholders such as organized labor groups, worker advocacy groups, and claimants. We can take an important first step toward helping NIOSH develop an accurate Site Profile for Livermore and Sandia, Livermore by participating in the public comment periods at the Radiation & Worker Safety Advisory Board Meeting (see p. 3 for address).

Would You Like to Help?

If you would like help preparing comments, or want to attend a session to practice speaking, call us. We are planning a "practice session" on Dec. 10, in advance of the Radiation & Worker Safety Advisory Board meeting. We want you to feel comfortable submitting comments in writing and/or in person. The public comment period is critical to help ensure that sick workers and family members get a fair shake this time.

Groups File Appeal in Bio-Warfare Suit

by Stephan Volker and Marylia Kelley
from Tri-Valley CAREs' December 2004 newsletter, "Citizen's Watch"

Tri-Valley CAREs and Nuclear Watch of New Mexico filed an appeal to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals challenging a ruling by Judge Saundra Armstrong allowing the Dept. of Energy (DOE) to operate a contested bio-warfare agent facility at Livermore Lab. The facility, a Biosafety Level-3 (BSL-3), would be used for experiments, including genetic modification, with live anthrax, botulism, bubonic plague and other agents.

Some of the agents would be aerosolized (sprayed) on live animals to ascertain how effective the agents would be in killing humans.

The lawsuit charges that DOE failed to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) evaluating the potential impacts of operating bio-warfare research facilities, including the release of deadly pathogens as a result of earthquake, fire, sabotage, or other accidental or deliberate release.

Two active earthquake faults are located near Livermore Lab and, according to U.C. Santa Cruz Research Professor Robert Curry, could generate lateral accelerations of twice the force the Livermore BSL-3 is being built to withstand.

Although DOE withdrew its approval for a similar BSL-3 at Los Alamos last January in response to our litigation, the appeal will now serve as a safeguard against the agency simply deciding to reapprove it without doing an EIS.

Further, the appeal seeks to prevent the operation of the extremely dangerous Livermore facility. Risks to public health and safety posed by the deadly pathogens to be used at Livermore are huge. Livermore Lab is located adjacent to the active Los Positas and other earthquake faults, and next to a large metropolitan area.

"Our community deserves no less than an immediate halt to the construction of the Livermore bio-warfare agent facility and for DOE to withdraw its approval," said Tri-Valley CAREs' Marylia Kelley

"We are concerned that the District Court declined to consider testimony from a number of world-class experts regarding the health and safety risks posed by the Livermore bio-warfare lab," said plaintiffs' lead attorney Stephan Volker. "We believe that Judge Armstrong's decision not to consider this testimony defeats the purpose of the National Environmental Policy Act."

"This bio-warfare agent lab could become a magnet for terrorist attacks, exposing the entire Bay Area to potential contamination," Volker added.

Nuclear Weapons Budget: A Ray of Hope This Holiday Season

by Marylia Kelley
from Tri-Valley CAREs' December 2004 newsletter, "Citizen's Watch"

We wish you and our world joy and peace this holiday. We offer you this ray of hope.

Many of you responded to the action alerts on the 2005 nuclear weapons budget. Your calls and letters to Congress made a difference. Here are some of the cuts in the final 2005 spending bill:

  • Funding for a "Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator" bomb is cut to zero.
  • Funding for "Advanced Concepts" (e.g., mini-nukes) is cut to zero.
  • Funding for the new Modern Pit Facility (plutonium bomb cores) is cut from $30 million to $7 million.
  • Pres. Bush's push to shorten the "readiness" time to conduct a full-scale nuclear test ran into a bipartisan Congressional brick wall.

Congratulations, activists. Kudos to Congress, especially Rep. Hobson (R-OH) and Sen. Feinstein (D-CA) who led the fight to cut new nuclear weapons. These budget cuts are significant.

Next year, it is true, we will need to stop all of these bad programs again. Still, enjoy the moment. Our work together made a positive difference in the world.

Details at and

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