Thursday, August 10, 2006

A bomb test site in the hills upwind of Tracy has made the “short list” of 18 spots where a research laboratory might be built

Tracy Press, Tracy CA

Eric Firpo
Tracy Press

A bomb test site in the hills upwind of Tracy has made the “short list” of 18 spots where a research laboratory might be built to help protect against bioterrorism, the Department of Homeland Security announced Wednesday.

Homeland Security is looking for a spot to build a 500,000-square-foot research lab to replace a similar, but antiquated, laboratory at Plum Island in New York, which was built in the 1950s.

The University of California asked to run the new lab at Site 300, 7,000 acres in the hills west of Tracy that’s part of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

Homeland Security said the UC has made the first cut, along with 17 other applicants in 11 states. It might not be built for another eight years environmental studies must be done for each applicant, and the federal government this year allotted $23 million to study where the lab will be placed.

Lab spokeswoman Susan Houghton said the new research lab would be a job-creating boon to the region and a scientific prize for the nation. Houghton said the aim of the new lab is to find ways to counter diseases such as foot-and-mouth disease that affect animals, and those such as the avian flu that can also infect people.

“This is considered a very prestigious lab to have,” she said.

But not by everyone.

Now that Site 300 has cleared its first hurdle, the anti-nuclear group Tri-Valley CAREs is launching an effort to prevent it from being built west of Tracy.

The group fears the new lab will research bioweapons, since it will have Level 3 and Level 4 labs. A Level 3 lab is built to study potentially deadly diseases, and Level 4 labs are built to handle deadly illnesses that have no known cures.

Tri-Valley’s director, Marylia Kelley, said the group was irked when the UC turned down its public records request to view a copy of its application.

“They didn’t even give us the cover letter,” she said.

The group is worried what would happen if an airborne animal disease somehow escaped the new lab and infected dairy cattle here or worse, people.

Tracy Hills, a proposed development of several thousand homes and businesses, will sit less than a mile from Site 300’s border.

Parts of Site 300 are so polluted with toxic chemicals and metals it made it on the federal list of Superfund sites, the most contaminated in the country.

“A major accident could devastate the state economy,” Kelley stated.

The group says a nuclear laboratory is no place for a biological laboratory because it sends a message that the lab will be used to develop offensive bioagents instead of trying to defend against them.

Kelley claims the new lab will “experiment with a lot of potential bioweapons agents.”

She also argues it will violate an anti-bioweapons treaty which allows for unannounced inspections.

“You don’t show up and do a surprise inspection at a nuclear weapons lab,” she said.

But talk of bioweapons infuriates people at Lawrence Livermore’s lab.

“They’re calling it biowarfare,” Houghton said. “They use phrases that scare people. They’re trying to get sexy headlines. We believe we can bring scientific technology that will help the area and help the nation. We will not be creating weapons. We will not be doing anything related to weapons. Period.”

Tri-Valley CAREs has scheduled a meeting at 7 p.m. Sept. 12 at 501 W. Grant Line Road where panelists critical of the proposal will discuss the lab.

“The Department of Homeland Security has said they will take community acceptance into account,” Kelley said. “What that means is if the community of Tracy becomes public in their objections, the Department of Homeland Security may not chose Tracy.”

• To contact City Editor Eric Firpo, call 830-4223 or e-mail

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