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Making up our minds about the tritium lab

Elmer R. Grossman, M.D.
Saturday September 01, 2001


In the August 14 Planet, the leader of the group opposing the tritium lab challenged some of what she termed “so-called facts” in my letter of July 27th. At the risk of prolonging the debate past the patience of readers, I would like to respond. 

I had quoted the investigator recently hired by the city of Berkeley to evaluate the lab as saying that the amount of tritium in trees and groundwater is small. My critic said “Franke’s draft study did not find that the tritium inventory in trees and ground water is small.” In fact, in his February 23, 2001 short version executive summary Mr. Franke said precisely that: “The overall tritium inventory in trees and also groundwater is small; it amounts to less than 1 curie.”  

She alleges that the tritium lab operations have been “minimal” since December 1996 in an attempt to delude the EPA. In fact, except for about six months in 1996-7 while they developed a better method of handling waste, the tritium lab has continued to be a busy place. Tritium emissions have gradually decreased since 1990 as more advanced procedures have been developed; there is now better recovery of tritium from waste, and the lab scientists have devised methods using smaller quantities in the experiments. 

She asked why independent soil and vegetation testing has not yet taken place. In fact, the lab does quality assessment of its own analyses by submitting split samples to outside labs. This has been done with tritium in air (two independent labs), surface water, soil, and water sediment. 

Finally, concerning the safety of the air at the Lawrence Hall of Science: Mr. Franke, the most recent investigator of the lab, commented that if he were a Berkeley father, he would happily take his children there. As a Berkeley father of 4 and grandfather of 6, I concur, and we are frequent visitors. 


Elmer R. Grossman, M.D.  

Clinical Professor of  

Pediatrics, Emeritus 

School of Medicine, UCSF