Radioactive Berkeley: No Safe Dose
Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory


The public policy video "Radioactive Berkeley: No Safe Dose" premiered at the Berkeley City Council in December of 1996. Featured speaker Dr. John Gofman M.D, Ph.D. addresses the medical impacts of low-level radiation exposure. The video also expressed a public concern over children visiting the Lawrence Hall of Science to exposure to tritium emissions from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory's (LBNL) National Tritium Labeling Facility.

"No Safe Dose" was also viewed by numerous regulatory agencies including USEPA and was instrumental in establishing the stakeholders group dubbed the Tritium Issue Workgroup or TIWG in 1997. TIWG met at the Federal Building in Oakland for nearly two years. From the very beginning, Berkeley community members of the workgroup experienced many problems with the LBNL workgroup. This eventually forced community participants to walk out on the corrupted process. Four years later the facility was finally closed.

Answers to Frequently-Asked-Questions about "Radiation"
Fall 1996 John W. Gofman, M.D., Ph.D. & Egan O'Connor, Executive Director of CNR

SCRIPT:  Radioactive Berkeley: No Safe Dose video presentation

My name is John Gofman, and. I am both a physician and a nuclear physical chemist. I have a long association with the university (the University of California at Berkeley) and did my Ph.D. work under Glen Seaborg. Which led to the discovery of Uranium-233. Which he labeled a 50 quadrillion dollar discovery! After the war, I came back to the campus as an assistant professor where my colleagues and I did the original work on lipoproteins and heart disease research. And I am continuing my work in radiation. What is the order of magnitude of the problem that’s been created by radiation in the twentieth century? Today, manmade activities, added up in total, exceed those from natural radiation.

Every increment that we add to the natural radiation will exact its price in human health. And human health in respect to some very miserable diseases such as genetic diseases and heart disease and cancer.

About 50% of all cancers in the twentieth century have been caused by ionizing radiation of the type we would call low level. Recently I wrote a book on the subject of breast cancer and stated my best estimate, backed up by considerable evidence, is that about three quarters of all the breast cancers in the twentieth century were induced by ionizing radiation of one sort or another, including medical. This is not a small problem, and we therefore need to give attention to every source of low level radiation exposure to the public.

I am Dave McGraw, the director of the Environmental Health and Safety Division. The national laboratory here in Berkeley (LBNL) is a treasure and it’s doing work that is completely invaluable, and really can’t be done other places. The tritium facility’s been here—it’s a national facility supported by the National Institute of Health—since 1982, although tritium labeling was occurring back in 1962.

When you do a health assessment, you try and assess the risk in various zones relative to your environment. We’ve assessed that risk in the three zones. What we call Zone 1, shown on the map, is largely limited to the basin where the tritium facility is. So, summing up then, from our risk assessment and from our monitoring efforts, we’re convinced that exposures are well below international, federal and state guidelines for tritium.

Drury: (Citizens for a Better Environment, CBE)
What the representatives failed to tell you is that the laboratory has for at least one year, maybe longer, had information that their tritium contamination above the facility is much higher than on what they base their risk assessment. A recent investigation by Laetitia Menchaca analyzing tritium in transpired vapor from plants at LBNL suggests that there may be significant amounts of tritium in the upper, non-saturated soil strata.

I am Marian Fulk from Livermore, a retiree from the laboratory, of 20 years there. And many years I worked on Raynoc, that’s the effect of, on people, animals, plants, when bombs go off. I spent a lot of time looking at the question of low level radiation and its damage to people, animals, and what not. People walking through that area: these trees transpire tritiated water. It will be tritiated water after a while; it gets transformed fairly quickly. When you breathe it, a hundred percent of the tritiated water gets absorbed into the system. Not only that, but if you took your clothes off, and walked through the same atmosphere, you would absorb darn near the same amount of tritiated water through your skin.

Most of the tritium is on a uranium bed very tightly, tightly bound to the uranium bed, and only tiny amounts are allowed to come off that bed as the reactions are done. We believe our data shows that we are not delivering any dose whatsoever to the people living in the community.

Drury: (interjection)
…has shown that the levels exceed the EPA by several times.

In the early days of the postwar period, when radioactivity became available in large quantities as a result of the existence of nuclear reactors, many people working in the field said, “Well, what dose can we allow people to have which will be safe? I wrestled with this question for over twenty years. In 1986, in a talk about Chernobyl, I presented to the American Chemical Society my initial calculations which said there cannot be a safe dose, because at the lowest possible dose, which is one radiation track through a cell, I have proved that cancer is a result.

Well, in the scientific community I think you’re always going to have some disagreement about what these numbers mean and how these number were set. My point in telling you that is that we will always have a general disagreement from the scientific community about these difficult issues.

Many people thinking about tritium say, “Oh, we don’t have to worry about tritium! The energy of the radiation is so low that we don’t even need to think about it.” It is true that the energy of each beta particle emitted by tritium is very low. But there’s another part.When you have a very low energy bata particle interact with biological tissue to produce damage to genes, the damage to chromosomes, and the risk of future cancer. . . .Well, the lower the energy of the radiation, the worst it is in terms of biological hazard.

Tritium is five times as hazardous as bomb radiation for the same total amount of energy given. I don’t think any person who’s reasonable at all can doubt that I have demonstrated there is no safe dose!

I have shown with a multitude of studies that we get cancer down to the lowest doses. Now, that been resisted, but let me tell you something—it has been resisted, but the United Nations Scientific Committee in 1993 has come out and joined me in exactly the same analysis. Their conclusion: there is no safe dose. In 1995, the National Radiological Protection Board of Great Britain has come out with the same sort of analysis.

Hillas: (attorney)
If we look at the site we’re talking about, the hillside above the lab, on the top of that hillside is the Lawrence Hall of Science. The maximally exposed individual to the tritium contamination is a child on the observation deck at the Lawrence Hall of Science.
Lots and lots of children, lots of school children are on the deck during the course of the year. The stack from the Lab that’s emitting the tritium is approximately 100 feet from those kids. That’s were the highest levels of contamination are.

I’d like to mention, if I might, so many diseases in the children that are caused by low level radiation. It’s terrible. And there’s a lot of them. It takes 1% of the live born infants, 10% admissions in pediatric hospitals, 8.5% of children’s death, and they cause about 7% of stillborn. These are genetic diseases. I cannot overemphasize that there is no safe amount of radiation particularly for ? and ? damage to DNA. When you talk about limits, these limits are not like speed limits that you go up to, if not above. That limit is a disaster level, and they are no means tolerable.

The question comes up often in people’s minds, “Are all people equally sensitive to radiation in the form of injuries from radiation? And the answer is no. The children are most sensitive with respect to the generation of cancer and leukemia from radiation. A study of breast cancer in Hiroshima with radiation from the bomb has shown that children and girls under 20—women under 20—are the most sensitive to breast cancer generation, and beyond 40 even less sensitive. And when I say they are, I am not speculating. That’s a fact, and the sensitivity of the young being greater means we should exercise every precaution that we protect our children from sources of radiation, no matter how small.

I talked to experts on that issue at the University of California at Berkeley, at Stanford University, at the University of California in San Francisco, and to these experts’ knowledge in breast cancer epistemology, they see no connection between tritium exposure and breast cancer, no compelling data, and I must re-emphasize again to get the disease that you need a dose, you need exposure. We do not believe there is any exposure.

If it’s in the trees, the groundwater, and what not, people are getting some exposure in the neighborhood, and probably through the whole city.

If you look at where the contamination goes from there, it mixes with creek water and goes down the hillside and ends up in Strawberry Creek, goes right through UC Berkeley, and right through the town. And essentially, what is occurring is LBL is poisoning the community and has thus far managed to evade the process of reporting that.

We don’t think it is possible to have zero emissions. We have a comprehensive program for monitoring. We recently upgraded that monitoring program so we know at every moment how much tritium is being emitted into the environment. We believe our data shows that we are not delivering any dose whatsoever to the people living in the community.

We need to remember that the work of the Lawrence Lab and laboratories like that throughout the country, is for service to the public. And therefore service to the public should be done with the utmost concern for the public’s safety and health.

I was a colleague and personal friend of Ernest Lawrence, and I feel that I honor his memory and his devotion to health and to public service when I say, “I am in favor of research proceeding at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory provided that the Lab meets the demand of the public for protection. Not vi-a-versa. With enough good will the needs of the Lab and the public both can be met, but the needs of the public come first”

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