Communities Against a Radioactive Environment
for immediate release, Tuesday, October 9, 2007
Community Group Seeks Answers About Livermore Anthrax Release
Tri-Valley CAREs Files Freedom of Information Requests, Vows to Obtain Information Needed to Protect Public Health and Safety
for more information, contact:
Marylia Kelley, Executive Director, Tri-Valley CAREs, (925) 443-7148
Robert Schwartz, Staff Attorney, Tri-Valley CAREs, (925) 443-7148
LIVERMORE -- Tri-Valley CAREs, a group whose members live near the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, today submitted Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to federal agencies seeking details about an anthrax accident at the facility. The release of the potentially deadly agent occurred in 2005, but the incident just became public following a $450,000 fine and a congressional oversight hearing.
"In order to protect the community from future accidents, spills, leaks and releases, we demand a complete accounting of what went wrong," said Tri-Valley CAREs' Executive Director, Marylia Kelley, who lives across the street from Livermore Lab.
The FOIA requests submitted today are particularly important because very little is currently known about the multiple violations of safety and security that resulted in the anthrax release -- and much of the available information has come from Livermore Lab spokespeople with no independent verification.
"Given that Livermore Lab first attempted to portray this major anthrax release as a minor violation of inner containment vessel shipping requirements, the additional information Tri-Valley CAREs seeks is vital to gaining a true understanding of the accident itself and its subsequent treatment by Livermore Lab officials and the governing agencies," explained Tri-Valley CAREs' Staff Attorney, Robert Schwartz.
Kelley added, "We now know that two Livermore Lab anthrax shipments violated numerous health and safety laws and involved 1,025 vials of anthrax in one instance and 3,000 vials of anthrax in the other. We now know that a person not authorized to handle biowarfare agents packaged the anthrax shipments and was not supervised, both dangerous security violations. And, we know that the DHHS has determined that anthrax was released, and that employees who opened the shipment were put on Cipro due to their potential exposures. Livermore Lab responded by saying that the lower-level researcher resigned and that the Lab has instituted additional training measures. Not a word has been said about the supervisor or the systemic nature of the violations. We believe Livermore Lab's response is not sufficient to protect the public from future mishaps. Serious questions remain."
Moreover, Livermore Lab has proposed operating a Biosafety Level 3 (BSL-3). This would permit researchers to aerosolize anthrax and experiment with agents such as West Nile Virus, Q fever, plague and tularemia.
"I'm concerned that Livermore Lab is already dealing with such large quantities of anthrax. Until the Lab demonstrates that it can safely perform biological research, it seems particularly reckless to increase experimentation with dangerous biowarfare agents by proceeding with the operation of the proposed BSL-3," commented Schwartz.
Two FOIA requests have been submitted to the Department of Energy (which owns Livermore Lab). And one FOIA request each has been submitted to the Department of Health and Human Services (which levied the fine), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (which conducted an investigation), and the Department of Transportation (whose regulations were also violated).