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Tri-Valley CAREs
Western States Legal Foundation
Bay Area Physicians for Social Responsibility


Jackie Cabasso, Western States Legal Foundation (510) 839-5877 or cell (510) 306-0119
Marylia Kelley, TriValley Communities Against a Radioactive Environment (925) 443-7148
Dr. Robert Gould, San Francisco Bay Area Physicians for Social Responsibility (510) 845-8395

Community Groups Applaud State Health Department Plutonium Report; Call On Livermore Lab/Doe To Fund Recommended Followup Process

OAKLAND, CA A report issued this week by the California Department of Health Services (CDHS) outlines a proposed process to address the historic distribution of sewage sludge containing plutonium released from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL). From 1958 1976, sewage sludge that may have been contaminated with radioactive plutonium from LLNL was made available to the public and municipal agencies for use as a soil amendment. Neither the location of the contaminated sludge nor the levels of plutonium in the sludge are known.

The report, entitled Proposed Process to Address the Historic Distribution of Sewage Sludge Containing Plutonium Releases from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, was produced by CDHS, in an unusual collaboration with representatives from the Alameda County Environmental Health Department, the City of Livermore, and three community groups, Western States Legal Foundation (WSLF), San Francisco Bay Area Physicians for Social Responsibility (SF PSR), and TriValley Communities Against a Radioactive Environment (TriValley CAREs).

Since the actual levels of plutonium in sludge given to the public are unknown, and the public was not aware that the sludge may have contained plutonium, CDHS and its collaborators developed a process to address these issues. The process proposed in the report includes community outreach and possible environmental sampling. The report recommends that LLNL/Department of Energy (DOE) provide funding to the Alameda County Department of Health Services to implement the proposed process.

According to Dr. Robert Gould, President of SF PSR: "San Francisco Bay Area physicians applaud CDHS for releasing this report documenting that for almost two decades sludge that may have been contaminated with plutonium flowing from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory was distributed to unsuspecting Livermore families and public agencies. Chronic exposure to even small amounts of plutonium is of concern because plutonium emits ionizing radiation. Exposure to plutonium by inhalation or ingestion can lead to an increased risk of developing cancer. With a halflife of over 24,000 years, plutonium lasts. Therefore the impacts of potentially widespread plutonium contamination in Livermore reach far into future generations."

Patrice Sutton, MPH, of WSLF added: "The potential widespread distribution of a known carcinogen that will persist in the environment for tens of thousands of years has major implications for the public health. It is undisputed that Livermore Lab routinely released plutonium into the sewer, and that unintentional plutonium releases also occurred. It is undisputed that plutonium from Livermore Lab got into the sludge at the Livermore Water Reclamation Plant and that the sludge was distributed to the community for almost two decades. It is not known how much sludge was distributed, how much plutonium was in the sludge or where all the sludge went."

Marylia Kelley, Executive Director of the Livermore-based TriValley CAREs, stated: "We know that Livermore residents picked up sludge during the period from 1958 to 1973 and used it in their lawns and gardens. In fact, one of our TriValley CAREs Board members picked up two truckloads for her garden. Right now, one can't say with any certainty what the level of risk is. At the same time, we know that any additional exposure to radiation carries some level of risk. It's important to Livermore residents that the followup process recommended in the report be implemented. Using the principle of 'polluter pays,' it's appropriate that the Department of Energy and Livermore Lab fund Alameda County to do this work."

Robert Gould: "We concur that as the responsible party, the Livermore Lab/Department of Energy should fund Alameda County to implement a process whereby community members can have a voice in addressing the issue of plutonium contaminated sludge. The proposed process, which included input from local physicians and community members, will involve the impacted community in determining acceptable risk. Acceptable risk is not an exact science. Scientific inquiry from the dawn of the nuclear era to the present time has led to an overall increase in the estimate of lifetime cancer risk attributable to a given radiation dose. Given the uncertainties surrounding the distribution of plutoniumcontaminated sludge and the health risks of exposure to ionizing radiation, the people who will incur the potential risks should have a say in deciding what is 'acceptable' to them and their greatgrandchildren."

Patrice Sutton: "We agree with the CDHS report recommendations that there is uncertainty about the health impacts of the sludge distribution, and that a public process convened by the local public health agency should be the next step. Currently, the Livermore Lab/Department of Energy and federal health officials at the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry choose to address these uncertainties by using what the CDHS report shows to be faulty and incomplete data to make decisions on behalf of the impacted community. In contrast to this approach, the CDHS report proposes what may be an unprecedented alternative ? that the Livermore Lab/Department of Energy should take responsibility for the problem they have created by funding a process that will facilitate full disclosure and debate about acceptable risk among the people who are directly impacted by the Lab's plutonium releases. We strongly urge everyone to read the report, to send their comments to CDHS, and to demand that the Livermore Lab/Department of Energy fund Alameda County to implement a process to address the historic distribution of sludge in Livermore."

The CDHS report is available on line at: or by calling the CDHS Environmental Health Investigations Branch at (510) 622-4500. Comments can be submitted until January 15, 2003.

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