Reading Room

for more information, contact:
Tri-Valley CAREs: Marylia Kelley or Loulena Miles, (925) 443-7148
Nuclear Watch New Mexico: Jay Coghlan, (505) 989-7342
Atty. Stephan Volker, (510) 496-0600

For immediate release, February 16, 2006

Groups File Request for Emergency Injunction to Stop Operation of Livermore Biowarfare Agent Testing Facility

Court Will Determine Whether Deadly Pathogens are Transported to Site

(Click here to download the Urgent Motion; click here to download the supplemental memorandum.)

Livermore -- An "urgent motion for stay," and a supplemental memorandum filed in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals late yesterday, seeks to prevent the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) from commencing operation of a new biowarfare agent testing facility inside the Livermore Laboratory in April 2006. The Biosafety Level-3 Facility is slated to conduct aerosol experiments and genetic modifications using lethal pathogens such as live anthrax, plague, botulism and Q fever.

The emergency motion brought by Oakland attorney Stephan Volker on behalf of the Livermore-based Tri-Valley CAREs and Nuclear Watch of New Mexico asks the Court to step in and prevent DOE from opening the facility while the organizations' case is being reviewed by the 9th Circuit Court. As plaintiffs outline in the motion, "? the deadly bioagents tested at this facility could escape to the environment through earthquake, fire, terrorist attack, sabotage, operator error or failure of the containment filters through which the air in the facility would be exhausted to the outside."

The groups' underlying lawsuit is aimed at compelling the DOE to conduct a comprehensive review of the project's potential environmental impacts before the biowarfare agent research facility begins operating. Plaintiffs include individuals and community groups located near the Livermore and Los Alamos nuclear weapons labs. The facilities proposed at these two locations would be the first time that the U.S. mixes advanced biowarfare and nuclear weapons research at the same site, raising local and international complications.

On November 29, 2005, the DOE announced in the Federal Register that it would conduct a full Environmental Impact Statement, as requested by plaintiffs and required by law, for the proposed Los Alamos bio-facility. Potential earthquakes, and the need for "additional seismic analysis," were listed as a reason for the more stringent review to be undertaken in New Mexico.

Plaintiffs believe that Livermore and Bay Area residents deserve no less than their New Mexico counterparts. "I am mystified as to why the Department of Energy believes it does not need to conduct the same degree of environmental review in Livermore," commented Tri-Valley CAREs' staff attorney, Loulena Miles. "Not only is Livermore the more crowded site, but this is where DOE has decided to experiment with deadly pathogens in a prefabricated building instead of a permanent structure."

"Federal environmental laws clearly require DOE to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement before experimenting with deadly bioagents in this densely populated urban area underlain with numerous active earthquake faults.," added lead attorney, Stephan Volker. "I am confident the court will grant our emergency appeal, and that we will ultimately win the case."

Plaintiffs charge that DOE failed to design the facility so that it could withstand earthquakes of magnitudes projected for the Livermore area. The agency has acknowledged that its Livermore Biosafety Level 3 facility is not designed to withstand earthquakes that produce ground accelerations in excess of 0.6 g. The plaintiffs' expert witness offered testimony in support of the motion that recent earthquakes in Northern California have demonstrated ground accelerations in excess of 0.6 g's, including an earthquake near Hollister that generated a ground acceleration of 1.3 g.

Moreover, the DOE's Environmental Assessment stated that there were "no active faults . . . in proximity to the location of the proposed facility" and concluded that there was no potential for a significant impact to the environment from operations of the advanced biowarfare research facility. In fact, the Las Positas fault zone sits within 200 feet of the Livermore Lab, and the Greenville fault runs within one kilometer of the Lab site and has damaged Livermore in the past.

In January 1980, a 5.9 quake on the Greenville fault injured 44 people in the Livermore area and caused 10 million dollars in damage to the Livermore Lab, including significant structural damage that ripped mobile structures (similar to the proposed bio-research modular facility) from supporting foundations. Dr. Matthew McKinzie, a Natural Resources Defense Council modeling expert testified that the release of only 5 grams of anthrax spores into the environment could cause upwards of 10,000 fatalities in the Bay Area.

"Biowarfare agent testing just doesn't belong astride active earthquake faults," said Tri-Valley CAREs' Executive Director, Marylia Kelley, a close neighbor of Livermore Lab. "If a release occurs, thousands of Livermore Lab workers and community members could be infected with some of the most deadly bioagents known." The modular, prefabricated facility that would house the pathogens is located a half mile from residential neighborhoods. There are seven million people living within a 50-mile radius of the Livermore Lab.

The two groups' lawsuit challenges DOE's shoddy analysis under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), which requires federal agencies to adequately consider the environmental impacts of major projects before taking further action.