March 11, 1999

Jaqueline D. Rogers
U.S. Department of Energy
Office of Environment, Safety, and Health, EH-51
Docket Number EH-RM-98-BRYLM
1000 Independence Ave, SW
Washington, DC 20585

Dear Ms. Rogers,

Submitted herein are Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety's (CCNS's) comments on the Department of Energy's Proposed Chronic Beryllium Disease Prevention Program Rule, 10 CFR Part 850.1 CCNS is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit public education organization that focuses on nuclear safety and environmental issues relating to the DOE nuclear weapons complex, particularly as they pertain to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) and Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL). We have extensive experience with Clean Air Act issues at LANL.

CCNS believes, due to the Department's admitted uncertainty with regards to beryllium exposure hazards, that the Department's interim proposed standards are too liberal. Until further evidence points towards specific dose amounts as hazardous, the Department should err on the side of caution. Dr. Meril Eisenbud, as stated in the supplemental information to the proposed rule, concluded in his January 1998 publication that it "appears" that the current 2g/m3 standard is not protective enough. He suggested the need to develop an animal model that will increase the understanding of the etiology of Chronic Beryllium Disease. The supplemental information to the proposed rule points to the unknown variables of "(1) The effect of peak exposures (such that most of the exposure results from short-term episodes); (2) inadequacy of area monitoring in reflecting actual exposure; (3) chemical composition, etc., that may effect bioavailability; (4) inadequate monitoring of beryllium composition/species associated with exposures; and (5) the effect of genetic predisposition."2 With this in mind, we do not believe that the proposed short-term exposure limit (STEL) of 10 g/m3 and the 8-hour time weighted average (TWA) action level of 0.5 g/m3 is conservative. The evidence indicates that the Department has no concrete evidence to support its conclusions for STELs or TWA Permissible Exposure Limits (PEL).

Since it is still unknown what level of beryllium can be dangerous for some individuals, the action level in the proposed rule should be the detection of airborne beryllium, period. All facilities where airborne beryllium is detected should then be regulated as described throughout the rest of the proposed rule (i.e., protective equipment, respirators, laundry, change rooms, etc.). Furthermore, DOE should direct whatever the necessary funding may be to independent studies who have as their goal the resolution of these uncertainties and the formulation of beryllium exposure limits that truly protect occupational health. It is shameful that after over a half-century of beryllium work, that the nuclear weapons industry still entertains such a large degree of uncertainty regarding beryllium health effects.

The Department held only three poorly publicized and poorly attended hearings at Rocky Flats, Oak Ridge and Washington, DC. Why was there such a limited effort to obtain public input on this matter? Why was no hearing held at LANL, when the lab has not only been a historic site of beryllium activities, but is also expanding it beryllium operations in conjunction with (but not limited to) stockpile plutonium pit production? We note that LANL is fourth among DOE sites (Y-12, Rocky Flats and Mound, in that order) for the number of workers that have been potentially exposed above the action level.3 With expanded beryllium operations that number is likely to grow. In any event, due to the end of DOE Defense Programs missions at Mound and Rocky Flats, LANL is probably bound to move into the dubious distinction of second place. It is inexcusable that DOE did not hold a public hearing of this proposed rule change in the Los Alamos area.

Our concern is further fueled by the fact that, according to the January 1999 DOE Final LANL Site-Wide Environmental Impact Statement (SWEIS), ambient air monitoring for beryllium at the lab ceased in 1995 and the State of New Mexico standard for beryllium was repealed in that same year. While we recognize that this is not strictly relevant to occupational beryllium issues, nevertheless these are important factors that heighten public concern. At the very moment that LANL beryllium operations are being expanded, DOE is essentially proposing to reinforce the status quo in the form of the 1949 AEC standard of 2 g/meter 3 (albeit with the new but inadequate action level), when that standard has already failed to adequately protect the workers.

We further note that these consolidated beryllium operations at LANL will take place primarily in Technical Area 3, which is the most densely populated technical area and contiguous to the Los Alamos townsite. As background, LANL has been in long term violation of the Clean Air Act4; admittedly has had a history of past unpermitted beryllium sources5; and possesses a substandard safety record, even by the relatively low standards of the DOE nuclear weapons complex.6 All of these factors, in our view, argue for the implementation of a very cautious PEL at LANL.

Related to this, we note that 850.2, Applicability, of the proposed rule exempts "DOE laboratory operations." We believe that, in the case of LANL, this deserves the utmost scrutiny. DOE needs to clarify whether this measure categorically exempts LANL as an entire institution, or only those programmatic elements devoted to research and not production. And where does DOE draw the line in the current downsized nuclear weapons complex where many production activities have been relocated to the nuclear weapons labs? In any event, CCNS opposes this laboratory exemption in its entirety, and urges DOE to withdraw that exemption. We particularly would oppose the application of this exemption to production operations at LANL.

With respect to "laboratory operations" that DOE proposes to exempt, some of these at LANL may possibly constitute significant beryllium emissions sources. Under the expanded nuclear weapons activities alternative articulated in the 1999 Final LANL SWEIS, DOE declares its intention to eventually triple the number of explosive dynamic experiments at the lab. LANL has a long history of such experiments. As an indication of the volume of these experiments, the old 1979 LANL SWEIS stated that by that time 100,000 kilograms of uranium had been blown up. As a result of expanded dynamic experiments, DOE states that an increase to the public radioactive dose is expected. As these experiments are directed at research of nuclear weapons primaries, it is inevitable that beryllium is involved. Our question is to what extent will the proposed rule govern "diffuse" beryllium sources (such as these experiments), analogous to radioactive diffuse sources that DOE now concedes require regulation under Subpart H of the Clean Air Act. Can DOE demonstrate that these experiments, to the extent that they are either contained or simply dispersed into the atmosphere, do not exceed the old 2 microgram/cubic meter standard for workers (or, for that matter, EPA' s community permissible exposure limit)?7 Or will dynamic experiments simply be exempted as laboratory operations?

According to a media article, LANL intends to declare some aspects of its beryllium operations exempt from Clean Air Act regulations.8 What is the basis for this? Would LANL similarly claim that certain beryllium operations would be exempted from the proposed rule?

With the question of laboratory exemptions in mind, CCNS supports the uniform application of the proposed rule (but with a more stringent standard and action level) to all DOE sites and all DOE subcontractors. We applaud that "the regulatory requirements of this proposed rule would by operation of law apply to DOE contracts. Accordingly, the application and enforcement of this proposed rule would not be subject to the Work Smart Standards or other related processes."9 We note LANL's long term hostility to DOE Order 5480.19, Conduct of Operations10, for which LANL's Work Smart Standards were formulated as a (in our view, suspect) substitute. We urge DOE to hold firm to the principle of uniform application of the proposed rule across the nuclear weapons complex.

Other provisions of the proposed rule that CCNS supports are:

- The creation of site baseline beryllium inventories;
- The requirement that DOE contractors provide appropriate respiratory equipment to all beryllium workers, but triggered by a more stringent OSHA time- weighted average permissible exposure limit;
- Mandatory regulated areas, change rooms and protective clothing;
- More stringent beryllium waste disposal practices;
- The implementation of beryllium emergency response procedures;
- The establishment of medical surveillance programs for workers, with appropriate measures for medical consent and protecting privacy;
- The implementation of beryllium training programs;
- Increased use of warning signs and labels; - The establishment of a beryllium registry; and
- The establishment of performance feedback loops.

We urge DOE to take steps to ensure that all of these elements are instituted at LANL, as they should be at all sites.

Thank you for this opportunity to comment.


Jay Coghlan, Colin King,
CCNS LANL Program Director CCNS LANL Program Asst.

Back to CCNS Documents Index


1 Federal Register/Vol. 63 No 232/ December 3, 1998, pp. 66940 - 66975.
2 Ibid, p. 66947.
3 10 CFR Part 850 Proposed CBDPP Rule, "Economic Analysis", Table 2-2.
4 See Memorandum Opinion and Order, United States District Court for the District of New Mexico, April 1996, CCNS v. DOE.
5 LANL memo "Beryllium Alert", Tiedman to Master Management, March 4, 1992.
6 DOE Safety Performance by Site, DOE Office of Oversight, Sept. 1998, p. 42.
7 To underline that this may be a issue worthy of consideration, we quote the following: "Researchers at Los Alamos are developing a measurement system that quantifies the amount of depleted uranium, beryllium, and other hazardous high- explosives decomposition products dispersed as a result of above ground hydrotesting and other Weapons Research, Development, and Testing." (Emphasis added.) Scientific & Technical Capabilities, "Characterizing Diffuse Source Emissions from Open-Air Hydrotesting", , 8/98.
The Albuquerque Journal, October 4, 1997.
9 Federal Register/Vol. 63 No 232/ December 3, 1998, p.66954
10 See, for example, June 3, 1998, DNSFB Staff Issue Report, "LANL's Implementation of the WSS Process."