Hearing on Neglect of Crucial Radiation Measurements Lab


From the Science Committee:

Subcommittee Will Examine the Consequences of Transitioning the Environmental Measurements Laboratory to the Department of Homeland Security

(Washington, DC) Tomorrow, Chairman Brad Miller (D-NC) and the House Science and Technology's Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight will hear from witnesses on circumstances surrounding the Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) incredible mismanagement of one of its three laboratories, the Environmental Measurements Laboratory (EML).

Background:

Located in the heart of Manhattan, just blocks from where the World Trade Center once stood, the EML has developed specialized equipment, protocols and techniques to locate, identify and analyze radioactive isotopes for the past six decades. The lab — which has undergone several name changes since it was first established in 1947 as the Medical Division of the Atomic Energy Agency — moved into its current location in downtown Manhattan in 1957. In 2003 it was transferred from the Department of Energy to the Department of Homeland Security's Science & Technology Directorate.

Its scientists and engineers have designed and fabricated unique radiation detection instruments, played a major role in evaluating the impact of environmental contamination from nuclear weapons fallout and developed a global network of radiation sensors that performed a critical role in U.S. and international nuclear non-proliferation efforts. In the 1970s EML established a radiochemistry quality assessment program that grew to include the participation of more than 150 labs and they have provided a support role for the Department of Energy's Nuclear Emergency Search Teams, whose task is to locate and disable nuclear weapons or radiological dispersal devices in the U.S. and abroad.

But since it was transferred to DHS, the Environmental Measurements Laboratory has largely been left to flounder. Some of its most important programs have been terminated, including a global radiation sensor network that could have played a key role in gathering critical intelligence on the North Korean nuclear test in October 2006. Projects it initiated with local first responders in New York City, including a network of roof-top radiation sensors, have been halted. Others have been started, stopped and then transferred. Today, the lab is in the final stages of decommissioning its six chemistry labs that were critical for the continuation of its radiochemistry quality assurance program praised by both state and federal participants as directly contributing to homeland security efforts.

The Department of Homeland Security never seemed to fully utilize or appreciate the capabilities of the Environmental Measurements Laboratory which has often been labeled as the “gold standard” in radiation measurements. Admiral Jay Cohen, the new Under Secretary of Science & Technology, who took over that post last August, has recently committed to putting the lab on a new path and making it a valued DHS asset.

Details of tomorrow's hearing in extended entry:

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Investigations & Oversight Subcommittee — Hearing

Transitioning the Environmental Measurements Laboratory to the Department of Homeland Security

Witnesses:

Panel 1

Lynn Albin, Radiation Health Physicist, Office of Radiation Protection, Washington State Department of Health

Charles F. McBrearty, Jr., Former Director of Materials Technology, Air Force Technical Applications Center, Patrick Air Force Base, Florida

Dr. Tony Fainberg, Former Program Manager, Radiological & Nuclear Countermeasures, Office of Research and Development, Science & Technology Directorate, Department of Homeland Security

Mr. Jonathan A. Duecker, Assistant Commissioner, New York Police Department, Counter Terrorism Division

Panel 2

John F. Clarke, Deputy Director, Office of National Laboratories, Science & Technology Directorate, Department of Homeland Security

Panel 3

Admiral Jay M. Cohen, Under Secretary for Science and Technology, Department of Homeland Security

Vayl Oxford, Director, Domestic Nuclear Detection Office, Department of Homeland Security

Other Witnesses TBD

10:00 a.m. — 1:30 p.m.

2318 Rayburn House Office Building (WEBCAST)

The hearing charter is available on the Science and Technology Committee website. Member opening statements and witness testimony will be posted to the website after the start of the hearing.

All full committee and subcommittee hearings and markups are WEBCAST live on the Committee website: http://science.house.gov.

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