A collaborative effort to address the distribution of plutonium-contaminated sludge in Livermore, California

New Solut. 2012;22(2):191-211. doi: 10.2190/NS.22.2.f.


Plutonium releases from the U.S. nuclear weapons laboratory in Livermore, California resulted in the contamination of sewage sludge. Two research models to address the potential public health impacts of plutonium-contaminated sludge distribution were undertaken. One model was a collaborative approach that emphasized incorporating local knowledge into the scientific analysis and fostering the growth of mutually respectful relationships between scientists, governmental, and non-governmental collaborators. The second was a dose-assessment approach that utilized existing data to estimate radiological doses from exposure to plutonium contaminated sewage sludge and compared the estimated doses with those that have caused sickness or death. The two models reached different conclusions; neither addressed issues of intergenerational equity and primary prevention of exposure. Advancing an ethical research agenda will involve looking upstream of the contamination and working toward sustainable solutions to security that do not involve the public health threats embedded in the global embrace of nuclear weapons.

MeSH terms

  • California
  • Community-Institutional Relations*
  • Cooperative Behavior*
  • Environmental Exposure / statistics & numerical data
  • Environmental Restoration and Remediation
  • Ethics, Research
  • Humans
  • Plutonium / analysis*
  • Plutonium / toxicity
  • Radiation Dosage
  • Radiation Monitoring / methods
  • Radioactive Pollutants / analysis*
  • Radioactive Pollutants / toxicity
  • Research Design
  • Sewage / adverse effects
  • Sewage / chemistry*


  • Radioactive Pollutants
  • Sewage
  • Plutonium