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Laboratory Loses Federal Contract

Paul Martin Chairs Management Group

By Matthew W. Granade

In fallout from charges of environmental negligence and safety lapses at Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL), the federal government unilaterally revoked its contract with the consortium of universities--including Harvard--which has managed the lab since 1946.

An environmental group has sued BNL and other groups may sue the universities involved.

"I'm sending a message to [BNL]--and to our facilities nationwide--that I will take appropriate action to rebuild trust and to make environment, safety and health a priority," Energy Secretary Federico Pena said in a May 2 statement. "There need not, and will not, be a trade-off between award winning scientific research and environment, safety and health."

The Department of Energy, who owns the lab, began an extensive review of the lab's environmental, health and safety policies after a 1994 fire at BNL's high flux beam reactor exposed several workers to radiation.

In January, the lab announced that it had discovered an underground spill of radioactive tritium beneath one of the lab's two nuclear reactors, which has now been shut down.

Outgoing Dean of the Division of Engineering and Applied Sciences Engineering and Applied Sciences Paul C. Martin '52 currently chairs the board of directors of Associated Universities Inc. (AUI), the nine member, non-profit university consortium which manages the lab.

Martin defended the AUI yesterday against the charges leveled against the lab by the Department of Energy. While acknowledging some environmental concerns, Martin said that perhaps the AUI's greatest short-coming was in community relations.

"High priority has always been given to the health and safety of our neighbors and staff," Martin said. "The environment has always been high priority."

"We have not succeeded in community relations as well as we should have but we are determined to do that in the future," he said. "We regret that such drastic action was taken."

University spokesperson Alex Huppe dissociated the University yesterday from the lab, saying that Harvard has no official over-site of or connection to BNL.

"Harvard has no institutional connection with Brookhaven. Our official connection began in the late 1940s. We have not had a legal connection since then," Huppe said.

He also said that the lab's continued use and success was important for Harvard's scientific research.

AUI President and BNL's interim director Lyle Schwartz said, "I am sobered, but not surprised by the decision."

The department allowed Schwartz to continue to hold both positions as it rebids the contract to manage the lab. AUI had two years remaining on its contract.

Environmental activists were gratified by Pena's decision but said it was too long in coming.

"It took an incredible amount of courage and leadership on Pena's part," said William Smith, executive director of Fish Unlimited, an environmental activist group which has battled BNL for several years.

"The problem with the lab very simply is that they have always put science before the environment," said Smith. "It's the classic scientific mentality."

Lawsuit

In February, lawyers filed a $1 billion suit on behalf of the lab's neighbors, claiming that pollution from the facility has caused cancer and other illnesses in the neighboring community.

Fish Unlimited is now planning a second lawsuit against BNL as well as AUI and, if possible, the nine associated universities.

Since the underground pollution first came to light in January, allegations have emerged that BNL may have known of leaks in its nuclear reactor's cooling system as early as 1991.

The wildlife around the lab and the river running next to the site contain abnormally high levels of radioactivity, according to Smith.

Pena and other officials have also expressed outrage over how AUI and the lab have handled the concerns of its neighbors.

"The Brookhaven National Laboratory has lost the public trust from the citizens of Long Island..." Pena said in a news conference. "The combination of confusion and mismanagement that has been going on here for years is going to end."

One internal evaluation of the lab's safety procedure described the its approach to environment, safety and health as informal with characteristics of "a university atmosphere."

But critics of Pena's decision said that the high-level research at the lab was a consequence of this "university atmosphere."

Four discoveries at BNL have been awarded the Noble Prize in Physics.

Fish Unlimited's law suit will allege that BNL violated the Clean Air and Clean Water Act. The suit also alleges that pollution from the lab has caused those who live near the lab to develop cancer and other illnesses.

The suit is being handled by attorney Jan Schlichtmann who undertook a landmark suit against two corporations for water pollution they caused in Woburn, Mass. The case was made famous by the book A Civil Action.

BNL is located in 350 buildings on 5,300 acres in Upton, Long Island. The lab does research in physics, medicine, chemistry, biology and environmental science.

The lab has been a Federal Superfund site since 1989 because of groundwater contamination involving chemical and radioactive waste

He also said that the lab's continued use and success was important for Harvard's scientific research.

AUI President and BNL's interim director Lyle Schwartz said, "I am sobered, but not surprised by the decision."

The department allowed Schwartz to continue to hold both positions as it rebids the contract to manage the lab. AUI had two years remaining on its contract.

Environmental activists were gratified by Pena's decision but said it was too long in coming.

"It took an incredible amount of courage and leadership on Pena's part," said William Smith, executive director of Fish Unlimited, an environmental activist group which has battled BNL for several years.

"The problem with the lab very simply is that they have always put science before the environment," said Smith. "It's the classic scientific mentality."

Lawsuit

In February, lawyers filed a $1 billion suit on behalf of the lab's neighbors, claiming that pollution from the facility has caused cancer and other illnesses in the neighboring community.

Fish Unlimited is now planning a second lawsuit against BNL as well as AUI and, if possible, the nine associated universities.

Since the underground pollution first came to light in January, allegations have emerged that BNL may have known of leaks in its nuclear reactor's cooling system as early as 1991.

The wildlife around the lab and the river running next to the site contain abnormally high levels of radioactivity, according to Smith.

Pena and other officials have also expressed outrage over how AUI and the lab have handled the concerns of its neighbors.

"The Brookhaven National Laboratory has lost the public trust from the citizens of Long Island..." Pena said in a news conference. "The combination of confusion and mismanagement that has been going on here for years is going to end."

One internal evaluation of the lab's safety procedure described the its approach to environment, safety and health as informal with characteristics of "a university atmosphere."

But critics of Pena's decision said that the high-level research at the lab was a consequence of this "university atmosphere."

Four discoveries at BNL have been awarded the Noble Prize in Physics.

Fish Unlimited's law suit will allege that BNL violated the Clean Air and Clean Water Act. The suit also alleges that pollution from the lab has caused those who live near the lab to develop cancer and other illnesses.

The suit is being handled by attorney Jan Schlichtmann who undertook a landmark suit against two corporations for water pollution they caused in Woburn, Mass. The case was made famous by the book A Civil Action.

BNL is located in 350 buildings on 5,300 acres in Upton, Long Island. The lab does research in physics, medicine, chemistry, biology and environmental science.

The lab has been a Federal Superfund site since 1989 because of groundwater contamination involving chemical and radioactive waste

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