Best Bizarro Tale of the Toxic Doggies

Lab for Energy-Related Research

Photo by Larry Dalton

Think back to 1958 when the United States was at its most paranoid, deep in the throws of the Cold War, the nuclear arms race still in full swing. This was the year the U.S. Department of Energy decided to begin its tests at UC Davis to study the effect of radioactive fallout in the event of a nuclear explosion.

What animal did the country’s top scientists choose to test toxic effects on?

Answer: The mild-mannered beagle.

One can’t help but get an eerie feeling approaching the 15-acre site that was once the Laboratory for Energy-Related Health Research, built to study the health effects of radiation (primarily Strontium-90 and Radium-226) on humans by exposing more than 1000 beagles to these chemicals over a 30-year period. Located on Old Davis Road south of Interstate 80, the LEHR property once held two animal hospitals, 350 dog pens (indoor and outdoor) and 22 other random science labs and administrative buildings.

Today, the site is laid to waste, a toxic burial ground with protective chain-link fences spanning out in every direction. The decontamination and decommissioning of the LEHR site began in 1990 and is still ongoing. In fact, in 1994 the place was elevated in its toxic ranking, listed on the EPA’s “National Priorities” Superfund register. Hint: 1000 toxic dogs + 30 years worth of toxic dog poop = major contamination. The cleanup on this bizarre project will end up costing taxpayers a whopping $70 million.