A preliminary technical report on radiological monitoring at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and its micro facilities nestled near the university campus, was released last week to fiercely divided reviews.
The report conducted by the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research in Heidleberg, Germany, was designed to investigate tritium emissions at the facility and, though it stated there was no evidence of immediate damage on the environment, watchdog community groups are still crying foul.
The report indicated a need for expanded ambient air monitoring for tritium.
“The number of monitoring sites at the lab is well below the (Department of Energy) average,” according to the report.
Another concern, according to the report, is the flawed method of measuring the release of tritium.
“Releases of tritium are often in short burst. This renders the computer program used to determine compliance … to be inaccurate,” the report states.
Due to these factors there is a large margin of error in the conclusions drawn in the report, which is the first in a three-part contract.
“It was a very unfortunate statement,” said Gene Bernardi of the Committee to Minimize Toxic Waste, in response to the finding that “there was no evidence” to suggest that anyone had been exposed. “There was a lot said in that report, but the lab took that part and just ran with it,” Bernardi added.
“The report said there is no evidence of damage. But there is also no evidence that it doesn’t cause any damage… When you are talking about cancer, you’re not talking about an immediate danger. It may take a generation to feel it.”
High tritium emissions have been linked to low sperm count, cancer, sterility and mental retardation according to Bernardi. “What’s clear from this report is that you really can’t tell what the heck is going on.”
The Committee to Minimize Toxic Waste has been advocating the closure of the lab.
On the other side of the coin is the lab itself and the Environmental Protection Agency. “We were very pleased to see the words that there was no real damage,” said Shelly Rosenblum, environmental engineer for the EPA. It is an ongoing contract and we will continue to take further recommendations but “generally we are very pleased,” Rosenblum added.
The lab’s Community Relations Officer Terry Powell said the lab has done ongoing monitoring since the 1970’s, and there have been no indicators that there are any significant damages. The existing monitors show that the lab is well below acceptable levels, she said.
In addition to the discrepancy in interpreting the report is the issue of citizen representation, or the lack there of, on the Laboratory’s Environmental Sampling Project Task Force. The Task Force was established to involve a broad array of stakeholders in the review of and comment on a draft-sampling plan, according to Powell.
“We were totally against the task force,” said Bernardi. “They were in total control of who would be on task force. Only two neighborhood groups were represented. Most of them are from regulatory agencies, not the community, and not at all from concerned citizens.”
The list of complaints waged against the lab by Bernardi include manning its Task Force with people with conflicting interest, working in collusion with the EPA to cover up past, current and future problems at the facility and ignoring the concerns of citizens in an effort to appease big business.
“The lab is managed by the university. The university is run by the regents who are very pro-corporate. Big business doesn’t like to be told they have to spend money on waste cleanup,” Bernardi said.
“At Melvin Calvin facility they found Tritium in 54 percent of the samples. And that place is within 90 meters to a child day care facility in Girton Hall. Keeping it open in criminal really,” Bernardi said.
Powell argued, however, that the EPA “is not at all in collusion with us. They’ve been double checking on us through their own split sample program. In both samples, the lab has been reporting very low emissions,” Powell said in reference to the allegation of collusion. “You should ask [Rosenblum] what he thinks about that, I don’t think he will like that very much.”
“We take the whole issue very seriously. Safety to the public is a highest priority. To me, my family, my neighbors, it is very important. I consider it a personal responsibility to reduce hazards,” said Rosenblum in reference to the allegation that the EPA is making light of the potential threat of tritium.