Berkeley Nano Lab in Strawberry Canyon

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Berkeley Nano Lab in Strawberry Canyon - Save Strawberry Creek Watershed 

Community Speaks Out on Nano Technology at Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory

Environmentalists Question the Expansion of the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab into the Sensitive Strawberry Creek Watershed – Molecular Foundry Construction Begins without Environmental Impact Report – Nearby Hayward Fault Remains Ominously Quiet

Berkeley (January 28, 2004) Environmentalists, concerned residents, members of city commissions, and elected city officials will be on hand at the entrance to Lawrence Berkeley National Labs (LBNL) on January 29th and January 30th to greet LBNL guests attending the Molecular Foundry User Workshop and Molecular Foundry Ground-Busting ceremonies with a message that the destruction of a sensitive watershed in an earthquake prone area is too high a price to pay for a potentially dangerous and unproven technology that may do more harm than the miraculous good its proponents claim is possible.

The planned Molecular Foundry is sited in the fragile Strawberry Creek Watershed and within 600 meters of the Alquist-Priolo Earthquake Fault Zone, a zone in which State law prohibits the construction of facilities intended for human occupancy. LBNL was also able to avoid conducting a full Environmental Impact Report (EIR), instead producing a much less rigorous Environmental Assessment.

“DOE and LBNL are have made some very questionable decisions about the siting of this facility,” said Pamela Sihvola, a local environmental activist. “They seem to have ignored simple common sense. The best reason Dr. Mark Alper, a LBNL spokesperson, came up with for putting it between Buildings 66 and 72 is that the scientists will be able to walk over to confer with a colleague.” Said Sihvola, “I just wish they’d use e-mail and the telephone and put the building where it won’t harm anyone or anything.”

Environmentalists have good cause to be concerned. Although LBNL representatives state
that every effort is being undertaken to make the building earthquake proof and the Molecular Foundry secure from dangerous releases, its history has made its detractors dubious of the claim. Water contaminated by previous Lab research activities with radioactive and carcinogenic tritium, flows in an underground plume toward creeks that pass through the University campus and eventually, the Bay. LBNL and DOE have made no effort to clean up the contamination, even continuing to run the tritium stack and chipping tritium laden trees in place.

DOE, the University of California, and a bevy of government and corporate beneficiaries will spend two days listening to talks and watching demonstrations of nanotechnology, a discipline that is growing so quickly that the National Science Foundation estimates that the industry created by this research will be worth $1 trillion dollars by 2015. They will hear little about the growing expression of concern from scientists around the world about the serious health effects that are being observed in animals exposed to nanoparticles – carbon particles so small that they pass through cells and into the blood stream without triggering a reaction from the body’s immune system.

“Even the US Environmental Protection Agency under the Bush Administration has expressed serious concerns about the potential health effects and environmental impacts of nanoparticles” said Tom Kelly, a member of Berkeley’s Community Health Commission. “And if this Administration – with the worst environmental record in memory – is worried, we had better start looking at this science closely and act with caution and good solid evidence of its safety. It’s the prudent thing to do.”

This Video includes...

Videotape of the upper Strawberry Creek and Watershed as well as comments made at the January 29, 2004 press conference by the following:

KPFA 94.1 FM reporter Tori Taylor
Nano technology a new and growing field is essentially the science of making things atom size. As with any new science, the potential is great and the outcome is still very uncertain. It is because of the uncertainty that community members protested at the northeast corner of the Berkeley campus early this morning against the development of a nanotechnology facility at LBNL, The Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, holding signs that read “No Nanoscience in Strawberry Canyon”, “LBNL Clean up Your Mess First” and “No Nano Pollution”. Environmentalists spent about an hour and a half handing our flyers to passersby and cars stopped at the intersection of Hearst and Highland. The group then walked up the hill towards the facility, but campus security prevented them from entering the lab grounds. From KPFA News, I’m Tori Taylor in Berkeley

(Filmed speakers)
1.) Pamela Sihvola, Committee to Minimize Toxic Waste
We have gathered here today to basically express our concerns over the development of nanotechnology. LBNL is proceeding to build a molecular foundry devoted to nanotechnology in the Strawberry Creek watershed next to Noland Creek and Chicken Creek near the Hayward earthquake fault. The molecular foundry is a bio-safety level 2 facility and we’ll have several floors of laboratory, 48 in total, dedicated to nano fabrication and manipulation of biological organic and inorganic nano structures. The facility will potentially handle disease spreading bacteria and other biological agents. It is our understanding that there are no filtering systems available to prevent nanoscale materials - materials that are not bound in any other material, free ultra fine particles. There are no filters to prevent them from entering the environment and it is for this reason that we have requested the laboratory to prepare (both) an EIR (and) an EIS, which they have refused to do.

(2.) Gray Brechin, Ph.D., Department of Geography, UCB
I’m speaking here out of my concern, not only as an alumnus of the University - I have all of my degrees through my Ph.D. from the University, but also as a concerned resident of Berkeley. I am extremely concerned about how we have not been informed about what is going on in the canyon here. This is part of a history of recklessness on the part of the University that goes back at least to the building of the Memorial Stadium in the mouth of the canyon in 1923. It was known at that time that the main trace of the Hayward Fault, in fact, runs directly underneath the site of the stadium where 80,000 people gather at any time of day. Now the stadium could be destroyed in case that fault moves. And now we find out that an extremely risky form of research is going to be going on in a major industrial facility up here in the hills which very few Berkeley residents are going to know about, let alone those of us who in fact work every day on the campus. We absolutely deserve an environmental impact report and we deserve more public discussion on what is going to be happening up here. The University’s motto is after all is “Fiat Lux”, let there be light. It should be dedicated to free and open discussion.

(3.) Janice Thomas, President, Panoramic Neighborhood Association
I’m speaking today about the nanotechnology initiative and how it’s playing itself out locally in Strawberry Canyon with the City of Berkeley. In my 18 years of living in the canyon I’m given input on literally of dozens of development projects; but in those 18 years I’ve never ever experienced a public process so egregious and so unfair, so disrespectful of the people who live here, and so hostile to the natural environment. We who live here were not given a single public hearing, not one; not one public meeting in which we could have all could have asked questions for the answers and possibly learned enough about this project to have gotten a level of environmental review that meant something. Instead we were rushed through the process and as a result decision makers were mislead in that way. Instead of protecting our resource what we’ve seen is the UC Berkeley, and also Lawrence Berkeley Lab which is also under the jurisdictions of the UC regents, incrementally building in the canyon. If our decision makers locally don’t come on board, if we cannot effectively lobby the UC regents to save this canyon what we are going to have is, just clearly without a doubt, an industrial park - many of us have been saying this, an industrial park!

(4.) Jim Sharp, Daley-Scenic Park Neighborhood Association
I’ve lived on the north side of campus here for the last 15 years. I’ve lived in Berkeley for about 35 years. We’ve seen a lot of big projects come through. Some of them have had environmental documents attached to them and some have not, but this is the biggest I’ve seen without one and it certainly needs one. When we look at what’s going on here we see what’s emerging is something like an environmental guantanamo. We don’t see that there’s any public oversight, certainly almost no public disclosure, any without which there hasn’t been to the public and the neighbors around the site. You’ve probably heard about Nano High. Nano High is a big public outreach to high school students and they’ve been busing kids up here on for a series of lectures on Saturdays to alert them to the marvels of nanotechnology and applications down the line. Well that’s great, but I haven’t seen a similar effort directed towards the public that lives around here. Now I certainly hope that this will be re-dressed in the near future before things get any further along.

(5.) Carole Schemmerling, Urban Creeks Council of California
We’ve been working for 22 years to restore streams, to daylight them. Strawberry Creek was day lighted in 1984 and this new facility promises to be even more dangerous for the health of the human beings at the top of the food chain, but all the way along down the food chain. The water, the air that comes down from the canyon in the headwater creeks, which are very fragile and very important ecologically because whatever happens up there is going to wind up in all the other creeks in the storage drains and into the Bay which lots of money has been spent over the years trying to clean the Bay, to bring back the fisheries, to restore habitat; and what they’re doing up here on the hill we could easily destroy all those efforts in a few years, so we are very concerned about the watershed. We’ve asked them to stay out of pristine areas that haven’t been built on so as to avoid damaging the water quality further down the line; but they don’t seem to understand that when they do the kind of grading that they are going to be doing and remove the vegetation, the trees, that are up there, they really do damage the headwater streams and probably irrevocably so we’re asking for them to stop and do the EIR. - to stop doing the kind of development that will attack more of the watershed.

(6.) Gene Bernardi, Committee to Minimize Toxic Waste
Now this issue of the building of the molecular foundry went before the City Council in about January of last year and unfortunately they did not recommend to the Lab to do an environmental impact report or an environmental impact statement under the National Environmental Policy Act; however, to their credit, recently, they did pass a recommendation to the Lab that now all nanotechnology projects at the lab should be evaluated before they are allowed to proceed and they are to be evaluated by an independent health and safety review committee. The ETC group of Canada which is dedicated to cultural and ecological diversity and human rights has called on governments to adopt a moratorium on synthetic materials now being produced in laboratories without testing for health and safety.

(7.) Richard Schwartz, Author, Berkeley Resident
When David Brower, ex- president of the Sierra Club, was a boy he used to play in Strawberry Creek. This would have been in the late teens and early twenties and the University was building this stadium and to build the stadium. They hydro-blasted the hills and waste products from the hydro-blasting devastated Strawberry Creek. Filled it up with mud and basically ended all life in the Creek, that had been there since before it was a city, - drainage of Strawberry Creek from the stadium down. Now we’re faced with a threat from the stadium up and I think before it’s too late we should address it and protect the watershed.

(8.) L A Wood, Berkeley Environmental Advisory Commission (CEAC)
I sit on the environmental commission and have been a long time activist in Berkeley and tied to this issue of LBNL and the University. Our commission asked that they be very very diligent about cleaning up the site for the last decade we have asked for that to happen; but what we’ve experienced on the commission and in the community is a paper shuffle and we’ve also on the commission recognized the need for open space in Berkeley and I think, that if, the community cannot understand the other issues of environmental pollution and future technology, they can certainly can understand the need for open space.

(9.) Kriss Worthington, Berkeley City Council, District 7
The City Council, by a unanimous vote, asked the lab to study many significant impacts in the Long Range Development Plan. The City has also asked through the Community Environmental Advisory Commission, a comprehensive watershed management plan. The City also has requested the initial start-up health and safety and environmental reviews of all proposed nanoscience research projects. The molecular foundry seems to be pushed along without answering questions, without providing information; and that is very unhealthy and “un-environmentally” sound way to conduct the operation. I’m glad that the City Council unanimously asked these serious questions and I demand that the lab provide the answers to every single question that the City has asked.

(10.) Tom Kelly, Berkeley Health Commission
As a member of the Health Commission I’ve been interested in this issue of nanotechnology for awhile now and had the opportunity to bring the issue before the commission. It’s certainly of great concern to us was the fact that the molecular foundry is being built in a very sensitive watershed, in areas that are crisscrossed by earthquake faults; and as a result we’re very much concerned about the future safety issues involving the foundry, the workers and the environment up there in general. We’re beginning to see that exposure to nano particles can exacerbate respiratory problems. There’s an indication that nano particles actually cross the blood brain barrier and in some animals begin to show some alarming effects from exposure to those particles. I would like to get some kind of assurances that this research will be controlled in such a fashion that we won’t be exposed, as we have in the past, to the contamination created by Lawrence Berkeley labs. I think it would be most appropriate for not only this lab but for science in general to be looking at these health effects and environmental impacts before we let this technology loose on the planet.

Strawberry Creek Watershed Alliance,
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