LBNL Waste News


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 questions."

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.

Rush Hour 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," she said.

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 risks?"

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 the air.

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 group.

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.

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