Communities Against a Radioactive Environment
For immediate release: October 4, 2006
Energy Dept. To Begin Biowarfare Agent Experiments At Livermore Lab Before
9th Circuit Court Issues Decision
Plaintiffs Cry "Foul," File Request for Emergency Injunction to Prevent Transport of Deadly Pathogens to Livermore
for more information, contact:
Tri-Valley CAREs: Marylia Kelley or Loulena Miles, (925) 443-7148
Nuclear Watch New Mexico: Jay Coghlan, (505) 989-7342
Lead attorney, Stephan Volker, (510) 496-0600
Livermore -- An "urgent motion for stay" was filed at 10:30 PM last night in the federal district court. The motion 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 October 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. The case was heard on June 13, 2006. Both sides are awaiting a decision by the court.
According to plaintiffs, "...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."
"We are taking this step so that DOE cannot import live anthrax, botulism, bubonic plague and other deadly pathogens into our community before we obtain a ruling in the underlying lawsuit," said Marylia Kelley, the Executive Director of Tri-Valley CAREs who lives across the street from Livermore Lab.
"I am outraged that DOE would even consider operating the facility before the court reaches its decision," Kelley added.
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.
Tri-Valley CAREs' staff attorney, Loulena Miles, said, "This is earthquake country here in the Bay Area. A release of biowarfare agents from Livermore Lab could cause from hundreds to thousands of deaths, depending on which way the winds are blowing. There are 7 million people within a 50-mile radius of the proposed facility."
The groups 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.
"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 attorney, Stephan Volker. "I am confident the court will grant our emergency appeal. Moreover, I believe the 9th Circuit Court will grant the relief we seek in the underlying case by compelling a comprehensive environmental review and public hearings before the facility operates."
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.
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