Lawrence lab ends controversial test

By Kurtis Alexander, Daily Planet Staff
Wednesday June 12, 2002

Critics concerned future tests will threaten health 



With the threat of a lawsuit looming, officials with the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory announced Tuesday night that they have completed their controversial study of a waste treatment process which released radioactive tritium 500 feet from UC’s Lawrence Hall of Science. 

Tritium is used in testing pesticides and drugs. 

Critics of the federally-operated lab have long charged that tritium and other emissions are a health threat to the college and community. The grassroots Committee to Minimize Toxic Waste urged the city to fund a lawsuit to stop waste treatment until an environmental study of the lab is done. 

Berkeley’s City Council on Tuesday, in response to the lab’s announcement, decided not to consider supporting a $15,000 lawsuit.  

The lab’s unexpected announcement came just minutes into the council meeting. Robin Wendt, the lab’s environmental, health and safety division deputy, said the timing of the study’s completion while legal pressure is building is a coincidence. 

Wendt and other lab officials have long bucked environmental criticism, saying that emissions at their facilities are within federal standards. 

During the lab’s handling of the tritium, emissions of the radioactive tritium isotope and other potentially hazardous substances become airborne. 

The lab prepares the substance for use by product researches who test the effectiveness of pharmaceuticals and pesticides. 

Though critics were happy to hear that the lab’s treatment study was over, they questioned the lab’s motives. 

“They’re doing this now just to avoid a lawsuit,” said Elliot Cohen, an outspoken critic of the lab and member of the city’s Peace and Justice Commission. “When the publicity dies down, they might start doing it again.” 

Wendt told City Council that the lab, in addition to ending the current treatment study, canceled two other scheduled studies that were slated to test equally-contentious treatment technologies. 

However, Wendt would not say that waste treatment would be stopped entirely. 

“I can’t guarantee that we won’t do anymore treatability studies,” he said. 


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