KRC is a non-profit environmental advocacy organization providing legal and technical assistance without charge to low-income individuals, organizations, local governments and communities across the Commonwealth of Kentucky on natural resources and environmental issues. KRC has received several requests from local residents for assistance with regard to the evaluation of the potential human and environmental effects of the siting of the proposed bio-laboratory in Pulaski County.
According to the DHS webpage for the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility (NBAF), the Notice of Intent announcing the sites for evaluation under NEPA will be announced this month. With the assumption that the Notice of Intent will be forthcoming, this letter is written in order to identify the concerns and areas of inquiry that we believe should be explored as your agency defines the scope of alternatives and effects to be evaluated under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).
By both the proposed size of the facility and the very nature of the activities that will be conducted there, the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility poses a number of unique environmental and public health questions. As the first facility of its type, there is little basis for comparison with existing bio-laboratories in determining the actual impact this facility will have on the surrounding community, surface and ground water, land, air quality and security. The nature of the activities proposed for the facility has raised justifiable concerns among the general public, and it is imperative that the environmental review of the reasonable alternatives for and direct, indirect and foreseeable impacts of the proposed facility be thorough and transparent.
Considering the type of materials that will be handled at and transported to and from the facility, the waste produced, and the storage of infected animals and materials, KRC believes that the scope of any environmental impact statement prepared for this proposed facility should include at least the following areas:
1. A consideration of reasonable alternatives, including alternate sites, decentralization of research activities, use and upgrading of existing federal research laboratories, and a no action alternative
While the DHS has stated that its site selection process will involve the preparation of an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for a small number of potential sites, the fact that more than one site will be considered is not in itself sufficient inquiry. The DHS needs to provide some insight into its site selection process, including disclosure of the matrix of site characteristics that are being weighed. In accordance with 40 C.F.R. §1502.14(a), some explanation should be provided as to why the selected sites were chosen over the rejected sites and why the rejected sites were eliminated.
Furthermore, the environmental review should also include a no action alternative
2. The direct effects of the operations of the facility
The EIS should address the direct physical effects of the facility’s physical structure and aspects (such as building construction, parking, drainage, roads, etc.), and also the impact of the operations conducted at the facility and how those operations may affect the environment and the community. The “footprint” of the facility includes the potential positive or negative impacts that the facility might have on development of residential, commercial, industrial or institutional land uses in the area, and on the use of other lands for production of food.
The EIS should also identify all known information on the fate and transport of hazardous, toxic, or exotic agents that will be handled or produced at the facility and state whether any new hazardous, dangerous or exotic agents will be developed at the facility. If new agents may be produced at the facility, the EIS needs to address the environmental consequences of the production of new agents. For all chemicals and biological agents, acute and chronic exposure, and accidents of high probability and lesser impact as well as reasonable worst-case catastrophic events must be assessed.
3. Analysis of the effects of material and waste transport
It is imperative that the environmental review of the project includes consideration of the effects of transporting materials, animals, and waste to and from the facility. The EIS should address the consequences and risk of spills and releases in the course of loading and unloading materials, waste, and animals for transport, as well as transportation security and the possible ramifications of accidents or spills in the course of transport. The area in which the proposed facility would be located in Kentucky is one in which karst features and karstic systems are the dominant geologic and hydrogeologic systems, making the groundwater of the area particularly vulnerable to contamination, and enabling movement of groundwater-borne pollution with little attenuation, over a potentially large area. Consultation with the Kentucky Geologic Survey and other entities familiar with the extensive network of cave and karst systems is necessary.
Furthermore, the EIS should address the comparative risks and consequences of transporting materials via air, highway or rail systems.
4. The indirect effects of the facility
Pursuant to 40 C.F.R. §1502.16(b), the EIS should include in its analysis an examination of the indirect effects of the facility on the environment. The proposed location in Pulaski County, Kentucky, is a rural area with no existing facilities. The EIS should address the impacts resulting from the construction and extension of utility services and infrastructure, including, but not limited to, water and sewer lines, electrical lines, and access roads.
The EIS should also address the potential increase in electrical demand and water usage, as well as the ability of local electricity producers and available water resources to meet this additional demand. The EIS should include an analysis of the existing local wastewater and sewer systems to determine whether these systems are adequate to address any additional flow created by the facility. If improvements or additions to existing electric, water and sewer facilities, stations and plants will be necessary to accommodate the additional demand and other needs of the proposed facility, the EIS should address the potential environmental impacts, consequences and costs of these improvements or additions, including the effect of the project on land use patterns and development.
If the construction of access roads or other highway development projects are planned to provide access to the facility, the EIS should address the environmental effects of the construction of these roads and projects, including impacts on storm water and drainage, historic properties, wildlife, and wildlife habitat. The relationship between I-66 and this project must be explained and evaluated, since that project has been publicly linked by a member of Congress to this biolab project.
Outside workforce is reasonably expected to migrate to the area as a result of the construction and operation of the facility. Therefore the EIS should address the potential consequences of this influx of people, including any need for additional housing, available land, and the ability of water, sewer, and electrical systems to meet any additional off-site demand.
5. The potential effects on surrounding properties and the interests of surrounding landowners
The EIS should also address the potential impact of the facility and its infrastructure on surrounding properties and the interests of surrounding landowners. In so doing, the EIS should provide information as to whether easements across lands abutting the proposed site will be needed for the purposes of constructing any access roads, drainage, and utility lines or towers needed in connection with the facility. The EIS should also address whether the facility will affect storm water drainage across surrounding properties.
6. The geographic characteristics of the proposed site and affected land
The EIS must evaluate the geographic characteristics of the proposed site and any other land that will be affected in providing utilities and access road to the facilities. As noted above, it should be determined whether the facility will be built on or disrupt any karst topography, wetlands, conservation area, or other area of ecological concern.
7. The potential impact on storm water, surface water, and ground water
The EIS must address the management of storm water flow and drainage from the facility, including how the facility will protect against potential contamination of storm water, and what chemicals and materials may come into contact with storm water. The EIS should also discuss the impact of the facility on groundwater and surface water, including protections against contamination, expected discharges, and whether groundwater, surface water or storm water from the facility will be discharged into surface or ground waters that are being used for beneficial purposes. The EIS should also address run on and run off controls for storage, containment, livestock, and loading docks, in order to avoid contamination of storm water, surface water, or groundwater. The EIS should state whether the facility will have any potential impact on water quality, temperature, and availability.
Further, significant attention should be paid in the EIS to the issue of wastewater. In so doing, the EIS should address the treatment of sewage from the facility as well as animal wastes. The EIS should examine how contaminated wastewater will be managed, treated and stored at the facility, including any procedures that will be implemented to prevent contaminants from wastewater or animal waste from entering into the sewer system, storm water, surface water, and groundwater. The ability of the of the local sewer system to manage wastewater from the facility, including monitoring such waste and responding to spills and contamination, should also be addressed. As should the possibility and potential consequences of a release of contaminated material into the sewer system, storm water, surface water and groundwater.
8. Solid, special, and hazardous chemical and biological waste management
The EIS should address waste management at the facility, including the treatment, transport, and production of solid, special, and hazardous waste. This analysis should include a discussion of whether any waste will be stored on-site, transportation of the waste, security of waste streams, animal waste, the disposal of animal remains, and the procedure and technology that will be employed in the treatment and handling of hazardous and contaminated waste. The EIS should identify how waste from the facility will be managed, as well as wastewater and waste disposal. The EIS should also identify whether any waste from the facility will be recycled, and how waste will be transported from the facility. Handling and disposal of sharps, hypodermic needles and other tools should also be addressed, and an expected volume of waste and recyclable materials should be provided.
The EIS should provide information concerning the waste decontamination process, including specific processes such as autoclaving, chemiclaving, dry heat, radiation, or other processes that may be employed, and whether there are any by-products, emissions (including steam), effectiveness, and limitations associated with these processes, including occupational and public risks. The EIS should identify whether there will be any substances or contaminants at the facility resistant to autoclaving and other sterilization methods and how these materials will be handled, stored and disposed.
9. Storage of hazardous or contaminated materials on site
The EIS should address any hazardous, special, mixed wastes or biologically contaminated materials that will be produced and/or stored on-site, identify such materials, and provide information on containment and security. Information on protections that will be implemented to prevent spills and releases should be provided, as should information on access to these materials. Any potential hazardous or dangerous by-products of facility operations or decontamination processes should also be identified, as should the storage and disposal of any such by-products.
10. The potential impacts on air quality, both on and off-site
The EIS should address the facility’s effect on on-site and off-site air quality. Information should be provided concerning the facility’s venting and filtration system, aerosol chambers, and airlocks and seals. The EIS should address the monitoring and control features of the facility design and what measures will be taken to protect human health and the environment to detect and/or prevent an accidental release of contaminants into the air or venting system during outages, upsets, malfunctions, and accidents, as well as any failures of the containment, filtration or treatment systems.
11. The care, handling, and housing of live animals at the facility
As the planned facility is intended for the study of animal and zoonotic diseases, the care, handling and housing of all live animals at the facility should be addressed in the EIS. This review should include information on humane and safe handling procedures as well as information on secure and humane housing enclosures.
Since the facility is intended as a replacement for the Plum Island facility and will likely involve the study of a wide array of animals, including livestock, the EIS should provide information concerning the estimated number and type of animals to be housed and studied at the facility. It should address the potential escape or removal of animals from the facility, as well as the collection and management of waste produced by these animals.
Further, the EIS should address the potential for and protections against infestation or intrusion of animals or insects into laboratory space and animal housing areas.
12. Effect on historic and cultural resources
The EIS should also address whether the facility or accompanying infrastructure will affect any historic or cultural resources in the area. This analysis should include a determination of whether any properties, sites, buildings, structures, or objects included or eligible for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places will be affected, and invitation should be extended to governmental and non-governmental parties to participate in the 106 process.
13. Potential impact on endangered species and wildlife habitat
The EIS should address the potential impact of the facility on threatened and endangered species and wildlife habitat. This analysis should address any possible effect on any listed terrestrial and aquatic species of flora and fauna as well as any disruption or destruction of any breeding or nesting grounds or critical habitat.
14. Natural disasters, emergencies, releases and notification of surrounding community
The EIS should address the potential consequences of severe storms, flooding, and other natural disasters on facility function and security. It should address contingency measures in case of power outages, computer failures, or sewer back-ups. It should identify procedures to isolate any releases or spills from the facility. Furthermore, the EIS should address whether the facility will have a secure communication system and how timely notification of the community will be conducted in the case of a release, infection or possible infection of workers, security breach or other emergency.
15. Potential mitigation measures
In its review of alternatives, the EIS should also include an analysis of mitigation measures that could be employed at each alternative site to offset or reduce any environmental consequences of the facility at that location.
16. Security and emergency response
The EIS should address site and transportation security. This analysis should include a description of planned physical barriers to limit access to the site, security plans for site operations, and procedures to ensure the secure transport of contaminated materials.
The EIS should also evaluate the capability of local responders to respond to an incident at the site. Such an analysis should address the ability of police to respond to a security breach as well as fire and emergency medical personnel to respond to a fire, release of contaminated substances, or other emergency at the site. This analysis should include a determination as to whether local first responders will have adequate equipment and training to limit their risk of expose or infection in responding to, containing, and/or cleaning up a release or other emergency at the site, and in the absence of such manpower, training and equipment, the costs should be borne by the agency to upgrade those response capabilities.
The EIS should also address whether local hospitals and emergency medical personnel have adequate facilities and training to identify, manage, treat, and contain individuals exposed to the dangerous and hazardous materials and contagions that will be stored and studied at the site (including zoonotic disease agents and human pathogens). This analysis should also evaluate whether local police and veterinary and wildlife personnel have sufficient training to identify local livestock and other animals, including non-domestic animals, that may have been infected by animal or zoonotic disease from the facility and how to respond appropriately to such identification.
The EIS should address whether training and equipment will be provided to local emergency response, veterinary and medical personnel as well as the expected cost and source of funds for such equipment and training.
17. A comprehensive risk assessment of the proposed facility
Since the proposed facility will be storing and studying zoonotic disease agents as well as human pathogens and foreign animal diseases, it is imperative that the EIS include a comprehensive risk assessment of the proposed facility. The risk assessment should include, but not be limited to, individual and multiple-system failures, consideration of a possible loss of power, malfunction in the ventilation system or wastewater filtration system, defect in the sterilization equipment, or failure of the computer systems. The risk assessment should also include several reasonable single and multiple failure worst-case scenarios.
The assessment should evaluate potential scenarios that address zoonotic agents, fatal but not contagious pathogens, and contagions that spread easily among humans. These scenarios should include the loss of the physical integrity of containment systems causing a release into the air and water, as well as the release of contaminated material into the facility’s wastes. There should be scenarios addressing the possible infection of laboratory worker and the public with contagions from person-to-person contact and animal-to-person contact. Accidental or intentional release of infected animals or insects from the facility should also be evaluated, and finally, the EIS should evaluate risks and consequences of intentional releases of contagious pathogens as a result of a criminal or terrorist act.
One of the issues where there appears to be significant uncertainty that should be evaluated in the risk assessment and in crafting mitigation, is the environmental fate of pathogens in the ambient environment in the event of a release. Unlike surface waters, where exposure to UV limits the viability of bacteria and viruses in the ambient environment, there is a relative paucity of data to determine the viability and survival of bacteria and viruses in karstic systems.
In closing, thank you in advance for your consideration of these comments as your agency moves forward to begin detailed evaluation of the potential sites. Please place us on the mailing list for a copy of the formal Notice of Intent for the NBAF project, and for receipt of all draft and final documentation developed to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act for the proposed facility.
cc: Ewell Baltrip, National Institute for Homeland Security