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October 2008 Citizen's Watch Newsletter

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Lab Anthrax Release: New Details Emerge

by Marylia Kelley from Tri-Valley CAREs' October 2008 newsletter, Citizen's Watch

In August and September 2005, approximately 6,400 samples of Bacillus anthracis (anthrax) were shipped from Livermore Lab to other facilities in Florida and Virginia.

Due to a series of errors, oversights and legal violations, these shipments resulted in the exposure of at least five individuals to anthrax and the temporary suspension of the Lab's permit to make such transfers. Late last year, the Lab was fined $450,000 for violating federal regulations in connection with the shipments.

Newly released documents obtained by Tri-Valley CAREs shed further light on this incident. The release occurred during our initial lawsuit over the Lab's Biosafety Level 3 (BSL-3) facility, but was covered up by the government.

It is worth noting that, at the time of the anthrax accident, Livermore Lab did not have any bio-labs above Biosafety Level 2. The BSL-3 facility now desired by Livermore Lab (and the subject of our lawsuit) would pose even greater risks to public health because it would be approved for work with scores of additional biowarfare agents that may cause deadly diseases as a result of exposure by inhalation.

Last fall, we uncovered initial information about the 2005 anthrax accident and alerted the media and the public. Now, we have procured additional detail that shows just how dangerous the situation was. Here is what we now know.

The anthrax samples arrived at the Livermore Lab in 2002. The collection was under the care of a Louisiana State University (LSU) professor and included slants, suspensions of bacteria, swabs, glass beads, original material, soils, and tissues. It was shipped to the Livermore Lab's Principal Investigator (PI) by Pamela Coker, Ph.D., who was the PI at LSU at the time.

Once the anthrax arrived at Livermore Lab, we know that for a while the inventory record-keeping for the collection was kept in a paper log, although it was eventually transferred to an Excel spreadsheet at the suggestion of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta.

Documents show that by early 2005 the Livermore Lab PI wanted to maintain custodianship of the anthrax collection and prevent other researches at the Lab from having access to it. Therefore, as the Livermore Lab PI prepared to join the Department of Homeland Security in May 2005, a "frantic effort" was undertaken to find a new home for the anthrax.

The Livermore Lab PI had contacted Midwest Research Institute (MRI) and American Type Culture Collection/Biodefense and Emerging Infections Research Resources Repository (ATCC/BEI) about having them accept custody of parts of the collection. Both MRI and ATCC/BEI expressed interest, so the LSU professor contracted with and paid Dr. Coker to come to Livermore Lab as a "visitor" to package and ship the anthrax collection.

Dr. Coker packaged and shipped the collection in three stages. On August 25, 2005, 1,065 dried slant samples were inventoried and shipped from Livermore Lab to MRI in Palm Bay, Florida. On August 30th, the CDC arrived for an inspection, and further anthrax shipments were temporarily postponed.

On September 13th, part of the anthrax collection was shipped to ATCC/BEI in Manassas, Virginia, and an ATCC/BEI representative oversaw the shipment. The CDC transfer form stated that 3,108 dried slants were included in this shipment. The following day, a second shipment from Livermore of 1,025 miscellaneous anthrax vials, some of which contained liquids, was made to MRI in Florida.

On September 16th, the Livermore Lab became aware of serious problems with the shipments to MRI and ATCC/BEI. Two MRI employees and three contract workers unpacking the second shipment to the facility were exposed to a then unidentified liquid. This liquid was later determined to be anthrax. These individuals, who eventually recovered, were treated with the antibiotic Cipro, a drug that is known to cause a variety of adverse health effects.

That same day, the Lab received a voicemail from ATCC/BEI stating that the shipment from Livermore had been packaged "at random." On September 22nd, ATCC/BEI notified both the CDC and the Lab of three inventory discrepancies (extra, missing, and mislabeled samples) and packaging problems related to this shipment.

These issues appear to have arisen, in part, because of Dr. Coker's improper packaging of the shipments. According to the Lab's Responsible Individual (RI), who observed Dr. Coker packing the second shipment to MRI, she "dumped" two boxes of samples into a secondary shipping container. The Lab's RI also witnessed Coker discarding nine samples from the collection into a red biowaste container. The RI retrieved the samples from the trash and locked them in a freezer, labeling them as "leftovers." Because the collection was shipped via FedEx, these problems could have resulted in the exposure of countless individuals to anthrax along the route.

More shocking still, Dr. Coker was not even authorized to handle the anthrax collection at Livermore Lab. According to the Department of Health and Human Services' (HHS) Office of Inspector General, she was not approved for access to select agents like anthrax at that time. Accordingly, by granting her access to the collection, the Lab provided an unauthorized individual access to select biological warfare agents, in violation of federal regulations.

The Livermore Lab's response to the incident was inadequate. The appropriate people and organizations (notably, the Lab's security program) were not contacted about the incident in a timely manner. Several weeks after Livermore Lab suspended work with select agents, employees still had access to these materials. In addition, neither the Lab's security nor the facility manager were told of the work stand-down and no engineering or administrative controls were in place to prevent access by individuals to select biological warfare agents still present at the Lab.

Livermore Lab's own investigation of the incident identified a number of failures. For instance, it was noted that the Lab did not have a robust, automated inventory system for select agents. (This poor record-keeping could have allowed an insider to covertly steal deadly pathogens for release later in an attack, similar to what is alleged to have occurred with a U.S. Army scientist in the 2001 anthrax mailings.)

Further, in numerous instances, the Lab's investigation found that staff deviated from required procedures or failed to understand their responsibilities. Although the Lab instituted a number of "reforms" to remedy these problems, it is doubtful that more policies & procedures will be able to prevent an incident of this kind, which arose primarily from the Lab's failure to follow the rules in place at the time.

Significantly, it should be noted that the Lab continued to withhold information about this incident. Even though the Lab's investigation was complete in December 2005, the anthrax release was not made public. And, even after the HHS notified Livermore, in January 2007, that it was pursuing legal action against the Lab for regulatory violations, Livermore Lab still kept the facts hidden from the public.

In one egregious example of "keep it mum as long as we can," the Lab misleadingly characterized the anthrax release as a minor violation of shipping and packaging regulations in March 2007, when it published its revised environmental assessment (EA) for the proposed, even more deadly, BSL-3 facility.

The description in the revised EA failed to mention that anthrax was involved or that people had been exposed; that an unauthorized individual was allowed access to the Lab's anthrax; and that the Lab's Responsible Official failed to ensure compliance with the select biological warfare agent regulations. These omissions prevented the public from considering the incident in their comments on the BSL-3 facility, slated to be operated at the Livermore Lab main site.

The anthrax release, the individuals placed on Cipro, and the subsequent $450,000 fine underscore the dangers posed by mishandling biowarfare agents. The Lab's reluctance to fully describe the incident to the public further illustrates that what we don't know can hurt us.

For more on Tri-Valley CAREs' legal efforts to obtain a full environmental review of the BSL-3 facility at the Livermore Lab main site, go to www.trivalleycares.org.

We Map it Out

by Janine Carmona from Tri-Valley CAREs' October 2008 newsletter, Citizen's Watch

On August 16, 2008, a group of Tri-Valley CAREs' staff, board and members gathered in the peaceful and comfortable setting of The United Christian Church in Livermore for our annual strategic planning retreat. Expertly led by facilitator Skip Spitzer of Root Action, Tri-Valley CAREs chose its top priorities and projects for the coming year.

First on the planning day's agenda was a comprehensive review of our progress in reaching the program priorities we had set out the previous year. Some highlights included our role in gathering approximately 120,000 comments opposing the "Complex Transformation" plan to modernize the U.S. nuclear weapons complex, and our victory in stopping a proposed biowarfare agent research facility at the Livermore Lab Site 300 near Tracy.

After the recap, the Tri-Valley CAREs planning group then identified barriers to the group's success in the coming year as well as the strengths of the organization.

Next, the group discussed and voted to prioritize strategic goals for the coming year, ranking them by order of importance. This will help us steer the "ship" of Tri-Valley CAREs in the direction that our members deem important.

Our coming year priorities include stopping plutonium at Livermore Lab, shrinking the nuclear weapons complex nationally, helping to organize the next generation of activists, stopping the biowarfare agent research facility at the Lab's main site, and promoting a "green lab" at Livermore.

While doing the crucial work of strategic planning, participants also enjoyed the camaraderie of the gathering, a pot luck lunch, and a rousing game of "knock the plutonium pit" out of the cardboard warhead (congratulations go out to Don King for his skill and accuracy in winning the game).

Tri-Valley CAREs is ready to stride forward confidently into its next 12 months of effective activism, thanks to its staff, board and dedicated members.

See you all at the strategic planning retreat again next year!

Poignant Atomic Commemoration

by Adrian Drummond-Cole from Tri-Valley CAREs' October 2008 newsletter, Citizen's Watch

Sixty-three years after the horrific U.S. bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, hundreds of peace advocates gathered near the fence line at Livermore Lab to remember the victims of those nuclear attacks, reflect on a future free of nuclear weapons, and renew their dedication to a more peaceful world.

Tri-Valley CAREs, in partnership with dozens of peace and environmental groups, hosted the commemoration on the morning of August 9, 2008. The event featured an enormous "Nuclear Maze.," constructed of wood and cloth. On the walls of the maze were photographs and information about the stages of the nuclear fuel cycle, including its environmental harms and testimonials from impacted communities.

Reverend Nobuaki Hanaoka (pictured), a survivor of the atomic bombing of Nagasaki, and retired Methodist minister, delivered a poignant and informative keynote address.

Reverend Hanaoka described the personal effects the bombing had on his family, including the sickness and death of his mother, sister and brother. He also gave a history of atomic weapons, from their creation to their threatened use during the Cold War, and concluded his address by calling for the complete elimination of nuclear weapons from the face of the Earth.

Tri-Valley CAREs and allied groups organized the annual commemoration to honor communities and individuals affected by the mining, milling, enrichment, weaponization, storage, and wastes associated with nuclear weapons. The event also raised awareness about the serious threat posed by the ongoing U.S. nuclear weapons program, particularly the new nuclear bomb research at Livermore Lab.

To read more, or see additional photographs, go to www.trivalleycares.org.

Print Bites

from Tri-Valley CAREs' October 2008 newsletter, Citizen's Watch

  • Community Writes. Last month, we told you about your role in stopping new bomb blasts at Livermore Lab's Site 300. This month, we have additional news about public involvement in Site 300 issues. We have confirmed that the State Dept. of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) received more than 100 written comments from you, the public, on Site 300's permit to store and treat (e.g., burn) toxic and explosives wastes. Specifically, people requested that DTSC step up to its regulatory responsibilities and not renew the permit without a deeper review of its adverse environmental consequences. We will monitor DTSC's response. Stay tuned.
  • Peace Poll. The Campaign for a Nuclear Weapons Free World commissioned a Harris interactive poll and found that, out of the 2,345 U.S. adults surveyed a full 68% said that possession of nuclear weapons by the United States, Russia, United Kingdom, France, China, Israel, India, Pakistan and North Korea encourages countries without nuclear weapons to develop them. This poll is consistent with other, earlier surveys in which the vast majority of Americans have said that they would feel safer if no nation, including their own, possessed nuclear weapons. Tri-Valley CAREs is a member group of the Campaign.
  • Bombplex Coming. The Dept. of Energy announced that it will release its Final "Complex Transformation" Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement in mid-October. According to DOE, the agency received a record number of public comments on the draft plan, which activists dubbed the "Bombplex," including approx. 100,000 emails, 20,000 petitions, 8,200 postcards & form letters, 220 [longer] written comments, and 20 hearing transcripts with 625 speakers (here in Livermore and Tracy as well as from across the country). The overwhelming majority of the public opposed the Bombplex. We will let you know how the DOE responds, and what "next steps" may be needed to prevent new bomb plants.

Alerts 4 U

Thursday, October 16
Tri-Valley CAREs meets
7:30 PM, Livermore Library
1188 So. Livermore Ave.
(925) 443-7148 for details

Long for a more just and peaceful world? Want to be part of creating it? Join your friends at Tri-Valley CAREs. Our October meeting agenda will include an update on the DOE's "Bombplex" plan - and our actions to stop it. Come and find out the latest information on the Livermore Lab's bomb making and biowarfare programs. We will also discuss our 25th anniversary celebration and other fun activities. Call the Tri-Valley CAREs office for details.


Friday, October 17
Anti-war Vigil and Sign Holding
Part of the "Iraq Moratorium"
5:30 - 6:30 PM, downtown Livermore
Fountains at first St. and Livermore Ave.
(924) 443-7148 for details

Demonstrate the power of local opposition to war. Join us for Livermore's monthly sign holding and vigil. Bring a sign or come and make one there. For details, Janine@trivalleycares.org.


Sunday, October 26
Tri-Valley CAREs' 25th Anniversary
Raffle and Gala Program
3 PM - 6 PM, Livermore Library
1188 So. Livermore Ave.
(925) 443-7148 for details

Celebrate a quarter century of effective advocacy with your favorite nuclear weapons watchdogs. Enjoy food, fun and good company. Purchase raffle tickets and win fabulous prizes. See some of our photos from the 80s and 90s (by the way, is that you holding the banner?). Circle your calendar, and call Marylia or Janine for details. We look forward to seeing you.


Bonnie Rocks.


This September, legendary singer-guitarist Bonnie Raitt and her band were kind enough to offer special benefit tickets to their Livermore performance, with the proceeds going to Tri-Valley CAREs. We also had the opportunity to table at the Livermore and Saratoga concerts. To cap it off, Bonnie gave us a "shout out" at both venues. Here's right back to ya', Bonnie: Thank you! We truly appreciate your support! We also want to send our sincere thanks out to those of you who purchased the benefit tickets.

(Photo: Marylia Kelley with Bonnie after the Livermore show.)

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