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January / February 2008 Citizens Watch Newsletter

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178 Workers Exposed at the Lab

by Marylia Kelley from Tri-Valley CAREs' January / February 2008 newsletter, Citizen's Watch

At least 178 construction workers at the Livermore Lab were exposed to Beryllium without their knowledge while doing a seismic retrofit on a machine shop.

Beryllium is a hazardous material used in nuclear weapons. When inhaled, the lightweight toxic metal can cause Beryllium sensitivity, which can go on to become chronic Beryllium disease, an incurable and life-threatening lung condition similar to asbestosis.

Livermore Lab hired the workers from a contractor, GSE Construction of Livermore, for a 4 year long retrofit project, which ended in December 2006. In February 2007, tests done by Livermore Lab showed Beryllium contamination had been present in the machine shop and two other buildings.

Officials at Livermore Lab kept the information secret. The Lab conducted a second round of tests for Beryllium contamination. They came back positive in July 2007. It does not appear that that information was widely shared either.

Little has been made public about the three buildings with Beryllium contamination. However, according to Lab management, the employees in two locations had been routinely working with Beryllium and therefore had taken precautions to avoid exposure even though they were not aware the buildings were contaminated.

Still, the total number of workers risking exposure is not known. It may be much higher than the 178 construction workers. Nor do we know the number of weeks, months or years that Beryllium contamination had been present in the workers' environment.

Did workers go into those buildings after February 2007? Information obtained so far indicates that unsuspecting employees were allowed to work in at least one of the buildings until September 2007. Lab management deliberately exposed people to Beryllium for 7 additional months rather than tell them. Continued exposure to Beryllium raises the odds that a person will inhale it and also increases the chances that the exposure will progress from the Beryllium sensitivity phase into the full-blown, incurable lung disease.

"We absolutely could have and should have informed the employees about this sooner," Lab spokesperson Susan Houghton told reporter Betsy Mason.

Livermore Lab has set a meeting for the exposed construction workers later this month, 12 months after the Beryllium contamination was discovered. And, the Lab has just put a survey in its internal newsletter to help it figure out who all among its regular work force may have been exposed.

Livermore Keeps Spirit of Dr. King Alive

by Jedidjah de Vries from Tri-Valley CAREs' January / February 2008 newsletter, Citizen's Watch

On January 21, the community of Livermore came together to honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The MLK Day event was sponsored by the Tri-Valley Peace Coalition, of which Tri-Valley CAREs is a member.

The event honored Dr. King's courage to fight for the soul of this nation when hatred threatened to drown righteousness. It paid tribute to the legacy of the man who stood up as a moral guide when fear clouded the way for many.

But the day was not just about looking back. The organizers recognized that, in our world, freedom and equality have not yet triumphed, and there is still a great need for the spirit of Dr. King. The MLK Day celebration sought also to inspire a renewed commitment to peace. In her opening remarks, Reverend Marty Williams of the United Church of Christ dedicated the event to all those who have died in Iraq.

Prabha Duneja delivered the keynote address. She spoke of the power of Dr. King's nonviolent resistance and traced its roots to the philosophy of Gandhi. She explicated the nuances of Dr. King's method and showed how nonviolence was not merely a tactic but a method of creating true peace in the world. She taught that strength comes through love, both of ourselves and of all others.

Dr. King and others in the civil right's movement often used the power of music to help participants find inner strength and peace and to come together as a community. During the MLK Day ceremony, Mary Perner led everyone in a series of songs about the struggle for what is right, including songs from the 1960s-era civil rights movement. Hearing the room fill with the sound of singing voices offered hope to everyone present.

Ultimately, inspiration was drawn directly from Dr. King. The event featured a video highlighting parts of Dr. King's "Beyond Vietnam" speech, in which he drew the connections between war abroad and racism at home. The video overlaid King's words with photos of current events, especially Iraq. This reminded people of Dr. King's greatness, but also inspired all present to take up his mantle and commit themselves to peace in our time.

With King's words still ringing, participants took the time to fill out "commitment cards" on which they wrote how they personally were going to further the cause of peace. One wrote, "Do more to support true equality for everyone." And, a six year old wrote, "Stop Wars! Be Nice!" Folks then made signs and marched through downtown Livermore to bring their message of hope, nonviolence and peace to the community at large.

At the downtown fountains, Vince Nims led a closing ceremony that cemented everyone's commitment to keeping the spirit of Dr. King alive.

Alerts 4 You

from Tri-Valley CAREs' January / February 2007 newsletter, Citizen's Watch

Friday, February 15
Show Your Opposition to War
Local Vigil and Sign Holding
5:30 - 6:30 PM, downtown Livermore
Fountains at First St. & Livermore Ave.
(925) 443-7148 for details

Demonstrate the power of local resistance. Join Livermore's monthly anti-war vigil and action. Bring a sign, or come and make one. We will have supplies as well as ready-made signs.

Thursday, February 21
Write on! Letter writing session
6:30 PM, before the TVC meeting
Main Library, 1188 So. Livermore Ave.
(925) 443-7148 for details

Been meaning to write a letter to the editor, but haven't found the time? Or, need tips on how to do it? Tri-Valley CAREs can help. We will be at the library with "how to" info and fact sheets. Here are a few topics that are crying out for letters to the editor: the Bombplex, the Lab's BSL-3, accidents, and the nuclear weapons budget. Can you write about one of them?

Thursday, February 21
Tri-Valley CAREs meets
7:30 PM, Livermore Library
1188 So. Livermore Ave.
(925) 443-7148 for details

We will discuss the fiscal year 2009 budget request for nuclear weapons, upcoming "Bombplex" hearings in Livermore and Tracy, actions to end the war in Iraq / prevent war on Iran, and much more. If you care about peace, justice and the environment, this is the place to be. JOIN US.

NOTE: In March, we will hold our monthly meeting one week earlier, on Thurs., March 13 at 7:30 PM. This is to clear our members' calendars so that more of you can attend the crucial "Bombplex" public hearings the following week (March 18 & 19). Please mark your calendar today, and come to our monthly meeting and at least one of the public hearings. Thank you.

Monday, February 25
Tri-Valley CAREs at the
Livermore City Council
6:15 PM, meet at TVC office re topics
7 PM - 7:30 PM, Livermore City Council
(925) 443-7148 for details

If you live in Livermore and care about peace and the environment, it is important that your City Council hears from you. Tri-Valley CAREs is making it easier. We have picked out one or two City Council meetings per month. On those occasions, our Outreach Director will meet with folks in advance, discuss topics and help you craft a 2-minute speech. Then, together, folks will go to the City Council. The "citizen forum" is in the first half-hour.

Thursday, March 6
Public Workshop on toxic cleanup at Livermore Lab Site 300
6 PM, Tracy Community Center, 300 East 10th Street, Tracy
(925) 443-7148 for details

The workshop, sponsored by the DOE, will focus on what to do about toxic debris at Livermore Lab's Site 300 in Tracy. The debris is at one of the outdoor "firing tables" where bomb blasts were - and still are - detonated. The "sand pile" at the Building 850 Firing Table is full of dioxins, furans and PCBs. Come and learn more about "firing tables," bomb testing and the Superfund cleanup of contaminated soil and water at Site 300. Tri-Valley CAREs will have an information table.

March 18 and March 19
"BOMBPLEX" Public Hearings
March 18, 6 PM - 10 PM,
Holiday Inn Express,
3751 No. Tracy Blvd., Tracy

March 19, two sessions, 11 AM - 3 PM and 6 PM - 10 PM, Livermore Community
Center, 4444 East Ave., Livermore
(925) 443-7148 for details

The Dept. of Energy (DOE) National Nuclear Security Administration has released its draft plan to revitalize the nuclear weapons complex at 8 locations across the country, including Livermore Lab. The DOE calls the plan "Complex Transformation" (formerly known as "Complex 2030"). We call it "Bombplex."

The most important thing to know is that the plan is fundamentally about the future of the U.S. nuclear weapons complex. Do you want a revitalized weapons complex with added capabilities to research, develop, test and produce new and militarily modified nuclear bombs? Or, do you want the U.S. to fully comply with the Non-Proliferation Treaty?

Don't be silent at this critical juncture. Your voice is needed. At the public hearings, you can speak on the changes you want to see at the Livermore Lab, or on U.S. nuclear weapons policy writ large. Help Tri-Valley CAREs and allied groups make the hearings a public referendum on nuclear weapons. Help us stop dangerous, polluting programs at Livermore Lab. Help us stop open-air bomb blasts at Site 300. Come to one or both public hearings. We will have an information table, sign-on comment letters and "talking points". (See the enclosed flier. Then, go to our website for our latest Community Guide, "How to Stop a Bombplex", and other materials.)

Friday, March 21
Good Friday Action, Livermore Lab
"Embracing the Beloved Community?
Rejecting the Violence of Empire"
6:45 AM, Vasco Rd. & Patterson Pass
(925) 443-7148, (510) 655-1162

Gather to support "peace, justice, hope & equality" at the Good Friday action at Livermore Lab. Father Louie Vitale will deliver the keynote. Father Louie has just returned from serving 5 months in prison for attempting to deliver a letter protesting torture to the commander at the U.S. Army's Ft. Huachuca in Arizona. Marylia Kelley will offer an update on Livermore's nuclear weapons research. Following music and speakers, participants will march to the gates of the Lab, where those who choose will nonviolently risk arrest. At 10 AM, there will be a community gathering at Marylia's Rec Room, breakfast foods will be served.

Local "Bombplex"

by Marylia Kelley from Tri-Valley CAREs' January / February 2008 newsletter, Citizen's Watch

Many decisions embedded in the Dept. of Energy's "Complex Transformation" plan will have a major effect on Livermore Lab, which is one of the 8 "Bombplex" locations across the country being studied. Here are some of the issues to address at the hearings.

According to the DOE's plan, Livermore Lab would continue to develop the so-called "Reliable Replacement Warhead," if Congress funds it. Speak out at the hearings against the design of any new nuclear bombs.

DOE's "Bombplex" plan would lock in radioactive tritium R & D, high explosives R & D, and other weapons missions at Livermore Lab. Speak up for a "green lab" and civilian science missions for Livermore Lab.

According to DOE, tritium (radioactive hydrogen) R & D will continue at Livermore because of the National Ignition Facility (NIF). Radioactive targets for NIF will be made and filled with tritium at Livermore Lab. A tritium mission for the Lab will mean contamination. Tell DOE we don't want tritium here.

The DOE does intend to remove weapons usable quantities of plutonium from Livermore Lab by 2012. However, under the "Bombplex," Livermore's weapons grade plutonium would move twice in order to serve bomb building. Tell DOE that plutonium should be moved only once and stored as safely as possible in a secure location. And, it should never be used in weapons work again.

The DOE is planning to phase out open-air and other bomb testing activities at the Livermore Lab's Site 300 in Tracy. However, officials at the Lab say they plan to continue, and even increase, the open-air bomb blasts under a "for hire" program for the Dept. of Homeland Security and the Dept. of Defense. Tell DOE that "closing out bomb blasts at Site 300 means all bomb blasts."

The future of the nuclear weapons complex is the issue. The choice is ours. Please make sure your voice is heard.

DOE Bypasses Law, Opens Bio-War Research in Livermore

by Rob Schwartz Marylia Kelley from Tri-Valley CAREs' January / February 2008 newsletter, Citizen's Watch

Ignoring public concerns, federal law and the agency's own regulations, the Dept. of Energy (DOE) began operating, without public notice, the bio-warfare agent research facility at the Livermore Lab that Tri-Valley CAREs and Nuclear Watch of New Mexico had been battling in the courts since 2003.

The advanced bio-weapon research lab, housed in a prefabricated (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.

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 community and the Bay Area," charged Marylia Kelley, Executive Director of Tri-Valley CAREs. Modeling has shown that live anthrax released to the air due to "light damage" to the Livermore BSL-3 could result in up to 9,000 deaths, depending on wind patterns.

Tri-Valley CAREs' Staff Attorney, Robert Schwartz told reporters, "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."

The two groups' 2003 lawsuit went all the way up to the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. In 2006, the appellate court ordered the DOE to consider whether the threat of terrorist activity necessitated the preparation of a high-level Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the bio-facility. Instead of conducting a detailed study of the terrorist threat in proper accordance with the Ninth Circuit ruling, DOE chose to downplay the very real risks to the community and the environment and issue itself 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," Schwartz explained. 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 labs above Level 2.

Furthermore, and contrary to the process DOE has chosen for its first-ever BSL-3, another, similar, facility proposed for the Los Alamos National Lab 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.

The DOE is deliberately turning a blind eye to potential environmental and health harms in order to proceed with its plans. The lower-level, flimsy Environmental Assessment (EA) the DOE prepared is a poor substitute for the more thorough analysis that would be contained in an EIS. Moreover, the EA omits significant information, including any detailed discussion of the September 2005 anthrax release caused by Livermore Lab's existing research that resulted in a $450,000 fine and the exposure of several individuals - at least two of whom were placed on the antibiotic Cipro because of the loose anthrax. Operation of the BSL-3 may increase the likelihood and severity of future accidents at Livermore Lab.

In addition to deadly impacts on 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 Robert Schwartz 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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