Reading Room

For immediate release: January 29, 2008

Energy Dept. Opens Dangerous Bio-Warfare Research Facility at Livermore Lab; Violates Own Federal Regulations and Law

for more information, contact:
Robert Schwartz, Staff Attorney, Tri-Valley CAREs, 925-443-7148
Marylia Kelley, Executive Director, Tri-Valley CAREs, 925-443-7148

Community Outraged at Risk from Accidents, Terrorist Attack; Will File Litigation to Stop Experiments with Deadly Pathogens

LIVERMORE, CA -- Yesterday, ignoring public concerns and without the required notification or circulation of its environmental analysis for public review and comment, the Department of Energy (DOE) opened a bio-warfare agent research facility at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. The new facility, housed in a prefabricated (i.e., portable) building, has now begun dangerous experiments with lethal pathogens such as live anthrax, plague, Q-fever, tularemia, and others.

This research includes genetic modification of deadly biological agents and toxins as well as aerosol (spray) experiments on up to 100 small animals at a time, according to DOE documents. The facility is rated a Bio-Safety Level-3 (BSL-3). The ratings, done by the Centers for Disease Control, go from 1 - 4, with the highest level reserved for the rarest diseases for which there is no known cure, such as Ebola. A BSL-3 designation allows scores of potentially deadly pathogens in and out of Livermore Lab, including "select agents," the name given to pathogens historically associated with bio-warfare activities.

"The DOE and Livermore Lab are jeopardizing the health and safety of the local community and the surrounding Bay Area," charged Marylia Kelley, the Executive Director of Tri-Valley CAREs and a neighbor of Livermore Lab. Analysis has shown that live anthrax released to the air due to "light damage" to the BSL-3 could result in up to 9.000 deaths, depending on wind patterns.

According to Tri-Valley CAREs' Staff Attorney, Robert Schwartz, "We are deeply frustrated by DOE's continuing refusal to analyze the risks, hold public hearings, or comply with federal regulations and our nation's most fundamental environmental law, the National Environmental Policy Act. Once again, it is up to us to bring legal action to stop the facility, and we are preparing to do so."

Tri-Valley CAREs, individual Livermore residents and others initially filed a lawsuit in 2003 challenging the adequacy of the environmental analysis that DOE prepared for the Livermore Lab BSL-3. In 2006, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ordered the DOE to consider whether the threat of terrorist activity necessitates the preparation of a high-level Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the facility. Instead of conducting a detailed study of the terrorist threat, DOE chose to downplay the very real risks to the community and the environment and issue a Finding of No Significant Environmental Impact (FONSI) for the bio-warfare agent research.

"By issuing the FONSI without a public review and comment period, DOE violated its own regulations," explained Schwartz. Under those regulations, DOE must issue a proposed FONSI for public review and comment in certain situations, including where the nature of the proposed action is one without precedent.

"The BSL-3 facility at Livermore Lab is without precedent because DOE had previously never operated any microbiological laboratories above Biosafety Level 2," Schwartz continued.

Further, and contrary to the process DOE has chosen for its first-ever BSL-3, another, similar, facility proposed for the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico is currently in the process of undergoing the highest level of environmental analysis, an EIS. This will ensure a more robust environmental review and public hearings for the people of New Mexico.

"We in California deserve no less," insisted Kelley. "This situation is an outrage. There are 7 million people living within a 50-mile radius of Livermore Lab. We are not disposable people, and we will not allow DOE to ignore our safety."

Tri-Valley CAREs continues to maintain that a facility of this nature, which will handle deadly pathogens in an urban environment, requires the preparation of a full EIS. This concern was at the heart of the 2003 lawsuit. However, DOE has stubbornly refused to prepare an EIS in its haste to open the facility.

According to Kelley, the DOE is deliberately using "environmental blinders" in order to open the BSL-3. The lower-level Environmental Assessment (EA) the Department instead prepared is a poor substitute for the thorough analysis that would be contained in an EIS. Moreover, the EA omits significant information, including a thorough discussion of a September 2005 anthrax release caused by Livermore Lab that resulted in a $450,000 fine and the possible exposure of at least two individuals.

"Tri-Valley CAREs intends to pursue legal action against DOE," maintained Schwartz. "In addition to violating its own regulations, DOE has also run afoul of the National Environmental Policy Act. In particular, the terrorist threat analysis ordered by the Ninth Circuit is inadequate and unsupported," Schwartz continued. "Contrary to DOE's assertions, it is evident that the Department did not take a 'hard look' at the environmental consequences of the BSL-3 facility."

In addition to deadly impacts in surrounding communities, the Livermore Lab bio-warfare agent research facility has global implications and may fray the already fragile international treaty banning bio-weapons.

Staff Attorney Schwartz pointed out that he recently returned from the Meeting of States Parties to the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) in Geneva, where he discussed with diplomats from treaty's signatory nations, including the United States, the potential problems posed by "mixing bugs and bombs" and a highly-classified nuclear weapons laboratory like Livermore. "If the research that is now begun at Livermore Lab moves forward, it has the potential to weaken the BWC. I am concerned, especially, that negotiations toward stringent, needed verification and enforcement protocols to the BWC will suffer because of DOE's capricious action," Schwartz concluded.

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For more information on the Livermore Lab bio-warfare research facility's health and environmental risks, and the organization's pending legal action to stop it, contact Tri-Valley CAREs at (925) 443-7148.

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