Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory was fined $450,000 for mishandling anthrax by the federal Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) Office. The incident occurred in 2005, when a package containing unsealed vials of live anthrax was sent from Livermore Lab to Florida. The scientist sending the package credentials had lapsed and the package was not inspected before shipment. According to the DHHS Inspector General, "anthrax was released from the shipped vials." Two employees at the Florida Lab were treated for possible exposure.
A second incident occurred where an inappropriate number of vials was shipped to a lab in Virginia.
Livermore Lab is one of three United States nuclear weapons laboratories, located in the San Francisco Bay Area. It is owned and operated by the Department of Energy (DOE). The fine was levied against Livermore LabŐs former manager, the University of California, as part of a negotiated settlement.
The incident was only recently made public at a congressional hearing about safety and security of the United States biodefense research laboratories. Community members are concerned that very little is currently known about the multiple violations of safety and security that resulted in the anthrax release.
Tri-Valley CAREs, a non government organization located in Livermore California, has submitted Freedom of Information Act requests seeking details about the anthrax accident at the facility.
Marylia Kelley, Executive Director of Tri-Valley CAREs, said, "We now know that was a deception. The lab disclosed only one aspect of a major accident involving multiple violations of law and regulation and resulting in the release of a dangerous pathogen."
The hearing was held by the House Energy and Commerce Committee. It was the first congressional hearing on the safety and security of United States biodefense research laboratories. A key finding at the congressional hearing was that Livermore Lab officials failed to inspect the shipments to ensure they were properly packaged and that labeling accurately reflected the contents.
Community members are particularly concerned because DOE has proposed expanding bio-warfare research at Livermore Lab, and are in the process of analysis for the construction of a new facility. This would permit researchers to aerosolize anthrax and experiment with biological agents, such as West Nile Virus, Q fever and plague.
Robert Schwartz, Staff Attorney at Tri-Valley CAREs, said "I'm concerned that Livermore Lab is already dealing with such large quantities of anthrax. Until the Lab demonstrates that it can safely perform biological research, it seems particularly reckless to increase experimentation with dangerous biowarfare agents by proceeding with the operation of the proposed [facility]."
Tri-Valley CAREs recently won a lawsuit requiring DOE to consider the risks of a terrorist attack when evaluating the impacts of the new facility. This analysis is slated to be released soon.
Schwartz said, "If that analysis dodges this and other accidents at Livermore Lab and proposes to bring even more of these potentially fatal pathogens to Livermore, we will haul them back to court. We simply cannot allow them to endanger our lives like this."
For more information visit the Tri-Valley CAREs website: www.trivalleycares.org.