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Hanford workers inhaled radioactive plutonium – new tests show

Tests show Hanford workers inhaled radioactive plutonium, Susannah Frame, KING 5   August 03, 2017 On June 8 approximately 350 Hanford workers were ordered to “take cover” after alarms designed to detect elevated levels of airborne radioactive contamination went off.  It was quickly determined that radioactive  particles had been swept out of a containment zone at the plutonium finishing plant (PFP) demolition site. The work is considered the most hazardous demolition project on the entire nuclear reservation.

At the time Hanford officials called the safety measure “precautionary.” Officials from the U.S. Dept. of Energy, which owns Hanford, and the contractor in charge of the demolition, CH2M Hill, downplayed the seriousness of the event with statements including, it appeared “workers were not at risk”, “(the alarm went off) in an area where contamination is expected” and there was “no evidence radioactive particles had been inhaled” by anyone.

The KING 5 Investigators have discovered those statements are incorrect. An internal CH2M Hill email sent to their employees on July 21 was obtained by KING. It states that 301 (test kits) have been issued to employees and of the first 65 workers tested, a “small number of employees” showed positive results for “internal exposures” (by radioactive plutonium).

Sources tell KING the “small number of employees” is twelve. Twelve people out of 65 is 20 percent. Still outstanding are 236 tests. A communication specialist with CH2M Hill sent a statement that more positive results are expected. “We expect additional positive results because analytical tests like a bioassay can detect radiological contamination at levels far lower than what field monitoring can detect,” said Destry Henderson of CH2M Hill Plateau Remediation Company.

Several veteran Hanford workers were surprised by the number of people with internal contamination from a single event.

“I’ve worked there for 27 years and I’ve never seen this many people contaminated internally,” said one employee with radiation expertise who did not want to be identified………

Hanford workers said they are not concerned about the small dose of radiation detected, but about the contamination inside the body from plutonium. All radiation is not created equal.Radiation from an x-ray, air flight or a microwave are different and far less dangerous types than the kind emitted by plutonium inside the body. Unlike x-rays, air travel or microwaves, plutonium emits alpha radiation, which is the most destructive type to inhale or ingest.

“Alpha particles damage or destroy DNA and can cause cancer,” said Kaltofen.

“If I get a chest x-ray or CT scan, that’s a different type of radiation,” said Dr. Erica Liebelt, Medical and Executive Director of the Washington Poison Center. “These people’s risk could be quite low because that number was very very small. (But) you have concerns about (alpha) radiation disrupting the cells and causing genetic disruption in the cells and cellular damage. And that’s what causes the increased risk for cancers in three organs: lungs, liver, and bone,” said Liebelt, who is also a board certified toxicologist……http://www.king5.com/news/local/hanford/tests-show-hanford-workers-inhaled-radioactive-plutonium/461574180

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August 4, 2017 - Posted by | employment, health, USA

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