Federal appeals court upholds LLNL center

Feb. 28, 2012

A Lab employee works within the BSL-3 facility at LLNL. (Download Image)

Federal appeals court upholds LLNL center

Stephen P Wampler, wampler1@llnl.gov, 925-423-3107
A federal appeals court has upheld the continued operation of LLNL's biosafety-level 3 facility.

The Lab's BSL-3, which opened in February 2009, allows Livermore researchers to conduct experiments on a wider range of microorganisms than could be worked with in the past.

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals issued the decision Feb. 7. In an earlier ruling, the court had previously upheld all aspects of the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) original environmental assessment for the BSL-3 facility with the exception of the DOE not considering the impact of a possible terrorist attack.

In September, 2009, the U.S. District Court for the northern district of California decided that a subsequent DOE revision of the environmental assessment had adequately considered the impact of an intentional terrorist attack.

In its most recent decision, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, hearing an appeal from the local anti-nuclear group Tri-Valley Cares, agreed with the district court verdict in a 3-0 ruling.

"Nowhere in the record is there any proof that the LLNL BSL-3 facility is more prone or attractive to terrorist theft and release of a pathogen by an outsider than any other BSL-3 facility," said Judge Milan Smith. "To the contrary, the record reveals that LLNL is actually one of the most heavily guarded federal facilities, in contrast to hundreds of relatively unguarded BSL-3 facilities nationwide."

The three-judge panel also found that a terrorist's theft and release of lethal pathogens was too unlikely to be a significant danger.

For more than a decade, long before the 2001 terrorist attacks, LLNL scientists have worked on biological monitors and detection tests to help the nation's defense against the threat of the malicious release of harmful biological agents and also for public health purposes.

Tags: BSL