Tri-Valley Cares (Communities Against a Radioactive Environment), recently obtained documents under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) that provides conclusive evidence that Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) was preforming illegal, federally restricted experiments involving select agents. In March of 08, the group filed a complaint in Federal court under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) to stop operations at the bio-warfare agent research facility located at Livermore’s main site.
From their Press Release: Livermore Lab Caught Conducting Illegal Restricted Bio-Experiments
Tri-Valley CAREs recently received documents that the group had long been seeking under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) regarding Livermore Lab’s biological agent programs.
The records we received show that Livermore Lab violated federal regulations by conducting “restricted experiments” without the proper approval. These illegal experiments were discovered during an inspection by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in August 2005. However, the information was not made public until now.
“The Department of Energy and Livermore Lab withheld these documents until Tri-Valley CAREs filed federal litigation under FOIA to obtain them,” explained Marylia Kelley, the group’s Executive Director. “This is a stunning example of the government covering up unclassified information because it is embarrassing. As a result, the public is denied knowledge to which it is entitled, and community health and safety are degraded.”
Restricted experiments are experiments utilizing recombinant DNA that involve the deliberate transfer of a drug resistance trait to select agents that are not known to acquire the trait naturally. Select agents, which include anthrax and plague, are biological agents and toxins having the potential to pose a severe threat to public health and safety.
Because of the dangers involved in transferring drug resistance to select agents, restricted experiments require approval from the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services. Livermore Lab did not have that approval, but ran the experiments anyway.
After discovering the illegal restricted experiments, the CDC required Livermore Lab to destroy the research samples. Otherwise, the Lab may have lost CDC’s authorization for its select agent program
These experiments were conducted around the time of an anthrax release caused by Livermore Lab in August-September 2005. The anthrax incident led to the exposure of five individuals and resulted in a $450,000 fine against the Lab. The anthrax release also laid bare a variety of errors and deficiencies within the Livermore Lab’s select agent program, including in the Lab’s response to the mishap.
It is notable that the relevant details of the 2005 anthrax accident were kept from the public at the time, just as happened with the illegal experiments that are coming to light today. In both instances, Tri-Valley CAREs used FOIA to uncover information that the public had a right to know all along.
“Taken together, the illegal restricted experiments and the anthrax release demonstrate that there are serious problems with Livermore Lab’s select agent program,” Kelley stated.
At the time of the violations, the Lab was only operating a Biosafety Level 2 research laboratory. Since then, the Lab has opened a Biosafety Level 3 facility, which allows researchers to work with additional types of select agents that may cause serious or potentially lethal diseases, and in greater quantities (up to 50 liters).
The Lab’s planned BSL-3 activities include aerosolizing (spraying) pathogens such as plague, tularemia and Q fever, in addition to anthrax. Moreover, government documents disclose that planned experiments in the BSL-3 include genetic modification and potentially novel manipulation of viruses, prions and other agents.
According to Kelley, Livermore Lab’s expanding biological warfare research program is a legitimate community concern. She asks, “If the Lab broke the law in the past and did not tell the public the truth, what is protecting the public today?”