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CDC access to classified laboratory records denied

Project could be terminated

Reprinted with permission from the Los Alamos Monitor
Thursday, September 14, 2000

By John Marble
Monitor Staff Writer

Access to classified documents has been denied to members of a project team who are identifying records that contribute information about off-site contamination by Los Alamos National Laboratory [LANL].

For more than a year, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has been attempting to identify and evaluate documents that would support an "independent characterization of historical releases of materials from the laboratory that had the potential to cause off-site health hazards."

CDC says its goal is to review every box of records related to LANL operations in a search for information about releases of chemicals and radionuclides from the laboratory between 1943 and present.

ChemRisk and Shonka Research Associates, CDC's contractors for the project, originally were allowed access to LANL records that CDC said was unprecedented for an independent group studying potential off-site health hazards.

However, Paul Renard, CDC project officer for the Los Alamos project, said at a public meeting Wednesday that in early June, CDC's access to classified records in the security vaults was withdrawn "in the interests of national security" after two LANL hard drives were found to be missing.

The hard drives were eventually found, but CDC is still denied access to classified documents, Renard said CDC has again requested access, and the request is currently in the office of Energy Secretary Bill Richardson.

"If we are not allowed access back to classified material, I will make a recommendation to terminate the project," said Renard. "This does not mean the project will be terminated - CDC will decide that. But I will make the recommendation."

"I am hopeful that the project will not be terminated," said Renard. "I hope the project gets by this hurdle and CDC gets back into the vaults. Our most important work is with classified documents."

Renard told a capacity crowd at the public meeting that work has continued on the project with the examination of unclassified documents. A draft report of the current status of the project was available, and representatives of ChemRisk reported on the progress that has been made on the project.

Charles Miller, CDC technical lead for the project, emphasized that the current report was a draft copy, that it is incomplete, and what is in the report is what has been declassified at this time.

Miller said the draft report had been released in order to provide information and also for public critique. Miller said the intent of the report was that it be a "living document." He said CDC has recently modified its contract with ChemRisk to update the status of the project every six months.

Tom Widner, project manager for ChemRisk, said at the meeting that the contractor's job includes reviewing historical records, selecting documents relevant to off-site releases on health effects, and making copies available.

"At most, the project is one-third complete," said Widner. "We don't have a real good handle on how much is out there. We think we have completed about 95 percent of the paper retrieval, but we still have a lot of microfilm and microfiche to go through. We have looked through most of the records at Environmental Safety and Health at Technical Area-35, but have done less than five percent of the reports at the Report Collection."

Widner said there are many more documents to be reviewed and more interviews planned over the next one and one-half to two years. He said many of the relevant documents identified are not yet available for ChemRisk's use or for public release.

Widner said 17 of 3,000 boxes of documents would be available to the public in about three weeks. He said one set of 17 boxes would be sent to Mesa Public Library for a period of time, and then sent to Northern New Mexico Community College. He said another set would be sent to Zimmerman Library in Albuquerque.

Widner said the original, projected three-year project is essentially a "gathering" of information. CDC wants a listing and ranking of materials released off site, a bibliographic database of documents and interviews relevant to those releases, and copies of those documents determined to be most useful.

After this three-year project is completed, CDC will work with Los Alamos stakeholders to determine if the information at hand warrants detailed investigation of potential public exposures from any Los Alamos operations.

Anyone interested in obtaining a copy of the current draft report or providing information to the project can call Widner at (510) 587-3050 or e-mail TWidner@JAJonesEJ.com.

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