CCNS and New Mexico Toxics Coalition's Preliminary Comments to the Draft Environmental Assessment Report of Los Alamos National Laboratory's Proposed Biosafety Level-3 Facility

November 19, 2001

Ms. Elizabeth Withers
NEPA Compliance Officer
Office of Environment
528 35th Street
Los Alamos, NM 87544

Re: Comments on Predecisional Draft Environmental Assessment - DOE/EA-1364 "Proposed Construction and Operation of a Biosafety Level 3 Facility at Los Alamos National Laboratory"

Dear Ms. Withers:

Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety (CCNS) and the New Mexico Toxics Coalition (NMTC) oppose the predecisional draft Environmental Assessment (EA) for the proposed construction and operation of a Biosafety Level 3 (BSL-3) Facility at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL). The BSL-3 would significantly effect the human environment. The EA prepared by the Department of Energy (DOE) and the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) lacks a full analysis of the environmental and human health impacts from the proposed BSL-3 facility. Because of the short time to review and comment on the predecisional draft EA, a sampling of some of the inadequacies are listed below.

CCNS and NMTC tried to obtain a copy of LANL's November 16, 2001 press release denying the public's request for an extension of time to review and comment on the EA, but we did not receive a response to our voice mail message. CCNS and NMTC object to the statements made by DOE as reported in the November 17, 2001 Albuquerque Journal North article. The DOE spokesperson said that DOE had received a lot of comments and that last spring it held a public meeting. The fact that DOE is receiving comments is inadequate justification for not extending the comment period. The public meeting last spring was part of the scoping process before the EA was prepared. 10 CFR 1021.311. The scoping comments should be considered but they should not serve as a substitute for comments that are directed to the review of the EA itself. 10 CFR 1021.320.

The DOE's implementing procedures for the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) are found at 10 CFR 1021. Subpart D of the implementing procedures allows DOE categorical exclusions from the preparation of an EA or environmental impact statement. However, under Appendix B to Subpart D to Part 1021, B3.12, Biosafety Level-3 and Biosafety Level-4 facilities are excluded from the exclusion. DOE/NNSA was correct to prepare an EA. However, the EA is incomplete and does not support a finding of no significant impact (FONSI). Therefore, DOE/NNSA must prepare an environmental impact statement and issue a record of decision before taking action on the proposed BSL-3 facility. 10 CFR 1021.322

Furthermore, the proposed BSL-3 was not included in the Site-wide Environmental Impact for Continued Operation of the LANL. No major federal action should be undertaken by an agency that is not covered by an existing program statement. 40 CFR 1506.1(c). Therefore, DOE/NNSA must prepare an Environmental Impact Statement with opportunity for public comment and public hearing before taking action on the proposed BSL-3 facility.

Because the proposed action is one without precedent, CCNS and NMTC requests that if DOE/NNSA prepares a FONSI for the predecisional draft EA that the FONSI be available for public review and comment for 30 days before the final decision is made. 40 CFR 1501.4(e)(2)(ii), 10 CFR 1021.322(d).

The distribution of the predecisional draft EA was inadequate. The New Mexico Department of Health did not receive a copy, nor the Pueblos located along the transportation routes. Inadequate notification of major federal action violates the spirit of NEPA and does not "encourage and facilitate public involvement in decisions which affect the quality of the human environment." 40 CFR 1500.2(d).

The documents supporting the EA were only made available after Nuclear Watch of New Mexico requested hard copies. Many of the supporting documents were removed from LANL's website since the EA was issued on October 29, 2001. A bankers box full of documents was delivered to Nuclear Watch on Friday evening, November 16, 2001. Time must be provided to review these documents and any referenced materials in those documents. The public should have the opportunity to provide educated comments based on the entire administrative record supporting the EA.

There are many significant unknowns and uncertainties in the draft EA. These include an incomplete analysis of the environmental and human health risks. DOE/NNSA propose using LANL's past experience with BSL-1 and BSL-2 laboratories to assign human health risk because "information on human health effects specifically related to BSL-3 laboratories located in the United States is not tracked in any formal manner (PC 2001c)." p. 58. LANL's past experience with BSL-1 and BSL-2 work is no guarantee of future experience with the proposed BSL-3. Substituting BSL-1 and BSL-2 past history for BSL-3 risks is unacceptable due to the increased number and hazardous levels of the bioagents involved. BSL-1 and BSL-2 laboratory data and anecdotal information from published reports do not provide adequate bases for the BSL-3 laboratory EA risk analysis. Complete analysis is lacking.

The EA lacks complete seismic activity and ground motion analyses. The proposed facility is located in an earthquake fault zone and volcanic area. According to the EA, the 1995 comprehensive seismic hazards study reports that "faults in the TA-3 (Technical Area 3) show vertical displacements ranging from 1 - 10 feet (.03 to 3 m). While surface ruptures indicated by near-surface vertical displacements can cause significant structural damage, surface rupturing earthquakes are low probability events. The 1998 study conclusions for the CMR building are that the probability of damaging ground motion is at least 20 times greater than the probability of damage caused by surface rupture." p. 53.

Prefabricated buildings are not earthquake proof nor are they consistent with the LANL Comprehensive Site Plan 2001 Planning Principles. Prefabricated building should not be included in any of the alternatives. More in-depth analysis of the seismic activity is required for any structure. The EA lacks analysis of damaging ground motion for any structure. Consideration of the proposed BSL-3 facility location in a volcanic area is also lacking.

The anticipated shipments to and from the proposed BSL-3 facility are 10 times greater than the current shipment level to and from LANL's existing BSL-2 laboratory. Diamond Drive and Pajarito Road would access the proposed facility and are highly traveled arteries between Los Alamos and White Rock. School buses travel these roads during the workweek. The increased number of shipments of microorganisms and related materials, and the fact that the proposed BSL-3 would be handling live and more dangerous microorganisms than a BSL-2 laboratory, creates increased security concerns and accidental release risks to public health and the environment. The EA lacks complete security and transportation risk analyses for the different transportation routes both on-site and through neighboring communities.

All three location options are in or near LANL's administrative area (TA-3) where one-half of LANL's employees work. The EA lacks complete analyses of the security and accident risks associated with the siting of a hazardous facility near large populations of workers, students, and the public.

At the November 14, 2001 public meeting in Los Alamos, we learned that there are four proposed locations within Option 1. The EA lacks complete analysis of these four proposed locations within Option 1 and they need to be analyzed.

There would be little discernable economic benefit to Northern New Mexico, or the State, from the proposed BSL-3 facility. Potentially, only five highly specialized permanent BSL-3 jobs would be created. The increased risk to public health and the environment could be substantial. Communities downwind and downstream from LANL have been burdened with risks from LANL's work with "special nuclear materials," hazardous materials and from the nuclear and chemical wastes stored or disposed on-site. This proposed BSL-3 facility would pose an unacceptable cumulative burden that has not been analyzed in the EA.

The proposed BSL-3 facility would create up to 50 pounds of potentially deadly waste every week, including contaminated clothing and petri dishes, that might be contaminated with infectious agents. The EA indicates that the waste would be autoclaved or be chemically treated, then disposed of as solid waste in the Los Alamos County landfill. The Los Alamos County landfill is scheduled to close in 2004, and no replacement facility has been approved. Depending upon the selected alternative, the proposed BSL-3 facility would have a 20 to 30 year life. The EA lacks an analysis of where the waste would be disposed of after 2004.

Planning today will reduce tomorrow's long-term stewardship issues. The 2001 report, entitled The Role of Local Governments in Long-term Stewardship at DOE Facilities, defines long-term stewardship as "The physical controls, institutions, information, and other mechanisms needed to ensure protection of people and the environment at sites where DOE has completed or plans to complete "cleanup" (e.g., landfill closures, remedial actions, removal actions, and facility stabilization). This concept of long-term stewardship includes, inter alia, land-use controls, monitoring, maintenance, and information management." p. 1. Because of the foreseeable decontamination and decommissioning costs, future building disposal issues, and possible impacts to workers, DOE/NNSA must include an analysis providing evidence that no long-term stewardship issues would be involved at the time the BSL-3 facility closes. In addition, there are many proposals on the table for new construction at LANL. Planning now so that long-term stewardship issues will not be problems in the future is smart, cost-effective and environmentally sound.

In February 2001, the DOE Inspector General released a report that concluded that DOE's biological select agent activities suffered from "insufficient organization, coordination and direction." p. E-9. Also, DOE's activities "lacked sufficient Federal oversight, consistent policy, and standardized implementing procedures, resulting in the potential for a greater risk to workers and possibly others form exposure to biological ... agents ... maintained by the (DOE)." Id. The EA does not address the issues raised by the DOE Inspector General's report and should be analyzed.

It is unclear how the proposed BSL-3 facility will be incorporated into LANL's ten-year site plan prescribing space utilization activities as mandated by the Energy and Water Appropriations Bill Conference Report, Atomic Energy Defense Activities, NNSA, October 30, 2001.

There is substantial public concern about the proposed BSL-3 facility. DOE/NNSA should remember the outcry from the public and retired LANL workers against the proposed outdoor Bacillus globigii experiments at TA-33 during the summer of 1999. On July 8, 1999 LANL announced through a press release that it had canceled the planned tests.

DOE/NNSA should also remember that LANL is located on the Pajarito Plateau, which is in a major forest fire zone, in a seismically active area, above the largest fresh water artery in New Mexico, the Rio Grande. DOE/NNSA should take care to ensure that the cumulative effects of the proposed BSL-3 facility are fully analyzed.

The EA does not support a FONSI; therefore, DOE/NNSA should prepare an environmental impact statement with opportunity for public comment and public hearing. Thank you for your consideration of our comments. Should you have any questions or comments, please contact us.


Joni Arends
Waste Programs Director
Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety
107 Cienega
Santa Fe, NM 87501
(505) 982-2609

Coila Ash
Executive Director
New Mexico Toxics Coalition
325 E. Coronado #2
Santa Fe, NM 87505

Cc: Senator Jeff Bingaman
Senator Pete Domenici
Representative Tom Udall
Secretary Spencer Abraham
Deputy Manager, Program Execution John Arthur
LANL Area Manager David Gurule

See CCNS and NMTC's attachment article to these comments, "Bioweapons Treaty: Neither trust nor verify", in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists

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