Council May Urge Lab to Reduce Use of Hazardous Materials
Apul Kirit Patel, Daily Californian, March 5, 1996
The City Council is scheduled to consider tonight urging
the UC - operated Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
to minimize, reduce and eventually eliminate operations that make use
of hazardous materials. Lab neighbors and other Berkeley residents are concerned
because the current contract between the U.S. Department of Energy and
the University of California calls for an 8.5 percent increase in the
1ab's total inventory of hazardous and radioactive materials and waste.
Councilmember Maudelie Shirek is proposing the resolution
that has received support from some council members. Councilmember Mary Wainwright said she was optimistic
that the lab, which is located in the Berkeley Hills, would take the
council's request into consideration.
"When we're concerned about issues they sometimes
don't get resolved like we'd like them to, but hopefully (the lab) will
take the necessary precautions," Wainwright said. "This makes
sense because it affects them as well as us."
Shirek was not available for comment yesterday.
Lab spokesperson Ron Kolb said yesterday that the lab
has been a good neighbor with a clean track record and questioned why
it was being singled out. "The lab continues to minimize and reduce our generated
waste. That's our goal," Kolb said. (The resolution's request)
is unrealistic in terms of the lab and what it was designed to do."
The resolution also cites the lab's "complicated
geological area" as additional cause for concern, making references
to "critical fire zones" in the Berkeley Hills, soil instability,
the lab's proximity to the Hayward Fault and its location in a densely
inhabited urban area.
Community and environmental activist L A Wood said yesterday
that he hoped the resolution would be the beginning of a pattern of
interaction between the community and the lab. "They haven't been accountable to the past,"
Wood said. "They've had many, many violations. I'd have a lot of
The resolution, if passed, would follow a pattern that
has brought the lab consistent criticism from city officials in past
months. City officials from Berkeley, Oakland and Orinda sent
a letter last year asking lab Director Charles Shank to reconsider the
cancellation of a fire response pact among the cities.
Officials also asked Shank in that letter to reconsider
layoffs in the lab's firefighting force. The council in December urged the lab to conduct
an environmental impact report on its plans to increase its storage
of radioactive and hazardous waste. But lab officials announced last
week that they would not pursue such a report.
Radioactive Shipment Riles City
Will Harper, Berkeley Voice, July 4, 1996
What was Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory thinking when it shipped
radioactive waste down one of Berkeley's busiest
streets to Interstate 80 during rush hour last week?
That's what city officials and environmentalists are wondering.
The lab packed 200 gallons of low-level radioactive waste
-- including plutonium, uranium and tritium -- in a semi-trailer truck
headed for a dumpsite across the country in Oak Ridge, Tenn. The truck
was escorted by university police to the highway on Monday, June 24
at 4 p.m.
But the lab didn't phone city toxics officials to notify
them about the shipment until Friday at 5:30 p.m. By then, all the division's
employees had gone home for the weekend.
"How absurd to call the city of Berkeley 5:30 in
the evening," said local environmental watchdog L A Wood, "There
isn't anyone in Berkeley who would attempt to call city government in
the evening on a Friday and expect to get anyone here."
David McGraw, the lab's environmental director said lab
officials called Berkeley's fire department at 7:45 a.m. Monday morning.
McGraw said the lab notifies the city when it ships hazardous waste
as a courtesy, but isn't legally required to do so.
"The shipment went out appropriately, it was inspected,
it went out consistent with all regulations and escorted by police to
(Interstate) 80 along the defined route we've agreed upon with the city
of Berkeley," he said.
McGraw told the City Council the day after that the lab
had planned to send the shipment out at noon. But it was delayed because
the truck driver was late, the materials had to be inspected, and there
was a lot of paperwork, he said.
Lab officials say the shipment had only a very small amount
of radioactive waste and was going to be recycled as fuel.
But city representatives were perplexed.
"I think we need to have proper, timely warning said
Councilwoman Diane Woolley-Bauer. "Rush hour is certainly not the
appropriate time to make" such a shipment of radioactive waste.
Mayor Shirley Dean asked McGraw to write the city a letter
explaining what happened. L A Wood said the lab should restrict its toxics shipments
to times when there are fewer people on the road, like at midnight. But lab officials have said they are not required to notify
the city in advance, but do so as a courtesy.
LBNL is a U.S. Dept. of Energy lab managed by the University
of California that conducts unclassified scientific research. The lab
is located in the hills above the university.
Concerns over hazardous and radioactive waste at the lab
have risen since LBNL applied to the state for permission to increase
its toxic storage capacity last year. But there has been little public
debate about how those toxic materials are transported off-site.
At last week's meeting of the Community Environmental
Advisory Commission, the commission discussed what local restrictions
could be imposed on the lab's toxic waste shipments. While Berkeley is as self-declared nuclear-free zone,
the federal lab says it is exempt from the local regulation.
Commissioner Janice Thomas said the committee also discussed
imposing time-restrictions on toxic waste shipments, but came to no
conclusions. Thomas said it was a complex issue because one time wasn't
necessarily better than another. For example, she said, while midnight
may sound more reasonable than rush-hour, there are also more drunk
drivers on the road.
Thomas, who lives in the Panoramic Hill neighborhood next
to the lab, said the commission will be discussing the issue at future
meetings. "I don't think this is going to die anytime soon,"
Toxics manager Nabil Al-Hadithy said the city attorney
is examining whether local regulations have any legal authority over
the lab and its shipment of toxic waste.
Residents Question Lab Safety: Despite Expansion, Officials
Call Health Risks Unlikely
Larry Luong, Contributing Writer, Daily Californian, April 19, 1996
Frustrated area residents grilled officials from the
Lawrence Berkeley National Lab over proposals to expand the facility's
waste storage sites, raising health and safety concerns during a public
information session Wednesday night.
Residents Question Lab Safety: Despite Expansion,
Officials Call Health Risks Unlikely
"We want to know the figures and the facts,"
said Frederica Drotos, who lives near the lab, "What are the health
Wednesday night's meeting was the fourth public information
session held by lab officials since September. Lab administrators want
to modify their permit with the California Department of Toxic Substances
Control (DTSC) to allow them to expand their waste storage facilities.
Such a modification would permit expansion of the lab's
current storage facility from 3,000 square feet to 8,000 square feet.
It also would permit officials to add a new 12,000 square foot storage
site, slated to be completed in August. The lab would then be capable
of storing 5,060 gallons of mixed waste, a combination of materials
classified as either hazardous or radioactive.
Residents have raised concerns over tritium gas, a radioactive
isotope of hydrogen used in cancer research. While the lab traps most
of the tritium vapor produced during experiments, some escapes into
Chris Whipple, a private researcher who lab officials
asked to review an environmental assessment conducted in response to
residents' concerns over tritium emissions, told those who attended
the meeting that tritium exposures have been "very low compared
to EPA standards."
Whipple added that the lab's tritium emissions last year
would equal about one-third of a cup of water if condensed.
Residents also expressed concern that disaster situations
could unleash such toxins from lab facilities. They questioned lab officials
about "worst case scenarios," such as an earthquake hitting
the area or a fire, like the 1991 Berkeley/Oakland Hills fire, burning
down the lab.
"The 1991 fire was a meltdown," said Berkeley
resident L A Wood "Your (safety precautions) are nothing."
Robin Lendt, the waste management project leader, said
yesterday that the prevention mechanisms in the lab make the possibility
of fire "highly unlikely."
"It just wouldn't happen," Lendt said. "The
waste-handling facilities are made of metal (with) two-hour fire-rating
walls, and (if fire) affected the integrity of the storage facility
there are fire suppression (mechanisms)."
Officials also said that the wastes stored in the lab
do not pose a major health concern for area residents.
"The (radiation) levels are so low, I can't lose
sleep over it," said Brian Smith, head of the lab waste minimization
Doris Willingham, a member of a local residents group
called the Committee to Minimize Toxic Waste, said she was not completely
satisfied with officials' answers to safety concerns.
"I don't think you have convinced us that your
facilities are (located) in the best site," she said. "You
have not proven your preparedness for a worst-case scenario."
Lab plans high-cost cleanup of tritium at Berkeley Radiation Laboratory
L A Wood, Oakland Tribune February 2, 1997
THANK YOU for your continuing coverage concerning radioactive
emissions from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory's tritium facility.
However, the title of your last story, "Lab plans high-cost cleanup
of tritium (Jan. 20), is inaccurate. When LBNL says it will spend $100,000
on monitoring the radioactive contamination in the hills, it cautiously
avoids talking about any site cleanup.
Last week, while explaining the tritium facility's emissions
to the Berkeley school board, lab officials stated that the state of
California was about to release them from any further cleanup. This
is based on the assumption that LBNL will receive the new state "containment
zone" status. For LBNL this will mean reduced cleanup standards,
or more likely, no cleanup at all.
A year ago, the Berkeley City Council began its
discussions with the city of Emeryville over containment zone designation
and a possible EIR lawsuit. Emeryville's plan is to redevelop without
cleanup of its urban environment. Now Berkeley is confronted with LBNL
asking for the same thing, to conduct research without any responsibility
for cleanup. So what's the $100,000 really for? This reader thinks it's
to silence the growing community outcry.