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Not in my backyard: Tracy community mounts opposition to proposed bio-defense facility
at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

Screenshot courtesy Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

By Caitilin McAdoo, Bay City News Service

April 18, 2007

LIVERMORE (BCN) - Although some activists, community members and the Tracy City Council have voiced their opposition to a proposed plan to build a national bio and agro defense facility at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, site 300, lab spokesman Steve Wampler said Tuesday that there is also a great deal of support for the project.

The California Department of Food and Agriculture, the California Cattleman's Association, the California Veterinary Association, the California Farm Bureau, the California Poultry Federation, the California Wool Growers Association and the San Joaquin Board of Supervisors are all in favor of the proposed laboratory, Wampler said.

Those opposed to the facility include the Tracy City Council, which voted in January to oppose the proposed facility, and an estimated 7,000 residents who have signed petitions, called, e-mailed and sent letters to the Department of Homeland Security urging it to eliminate site 300 from its list of potential locations for the bio-defense lab, according to environmental activist group Tri-Valley Communities Against a Radioactive Environment, or Tri-Valley CARES.

The Department of Homeland Security sent its site selection team to the laboratory on Monday. Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, in conjunction with the University of California, is one of 17 prospective locations for the facility.

Some part of the facility would be a Biosafety Level-4 laboratory, the highest safety level designation, which is reserved for facilities where scientists work with dangerous and exotic agents that pose a high risk of life threatening disease, aerosol transmission or an unknown risk of transmission, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Tri-Valley CARES has argued that site 300 is inappropriate for the facility because of its proximity Bay Area cities.

Site 300 is located about six miles southwest of downtown Tracy and 15 miles southeast of Livermore. Site 300 is More than 7 million people live within a 60-mile radius of the facility, according to Tri-Valley CARES.

Wampler said that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has a Biosafety Level-4 laboratory in the middle of downtown Atlanta and has never had a release.

The lab would be working with extremely small amounts of dangerous microorganisms and other biological agents in a controlled, secure facility with the highest levels of safety precautions in place, Wampler said.

Tri-Valley CARES, however, has argued that the proposal did not sufficiently address concerns about earthquake safety, fire safety or how the facility would hold up during a possible terrorist attack.

Site 300 is directly above an active fault, the Elk Ravine fault, and is in an area susceptible to frequent wildfires, according to Tri-Valley CARES. The property is also currently a federal superfund cleanup site.

Wampler said those concerns would be addressed during an extensive environmental impact study that would be conducted if site 300 makes it onto the Department of Homeland Security's final list.

He also noted that the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory has its own fire department.

In the recent past, scientists at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, working with scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory, developed the Department of Homeland Security's BioWatch technology, sensors that sniff out plague and anthrax. There are currently sensors set up in at least 30 of the nations cities, Wampler said. With early detection of plague or anthrax, people can be treated before they develop symptoms, which increases their likelihood of survival.

Copyright © 2007 by Bay City News, Inc. -- Republication, Rebroadcast or any other Reuse without the express written consent of Bay City News, Inc. is prohibited.




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