Low Levels Of Airborne Contamination Escaping Demolition Area At Hanford

Jan 25, 2018

Top state health officials are concerned that radioactive waste in the air is spreading around the Hanford site in southeast Washington. It’s mostly from that same demolition site that’s contaminated two workers, dozens of vehicles and closed down nearby offices.

Tom Rogers with the Washington state Department of Health, shows off a ''cookie sheet'' used to collect samples of airborne contamination at Hanford.
Credit Anna King / Northwest News Network

Both state and federal officials are monitoring the air around the Plutonium Finishing Plant with metal disks called “cookie sheets” and air-sipping filter machines. They’re finding traces of plutonium and americium.

Some of that contamination is escaping the demolition site and getting into areas that are publicly accessible.

John Martell is the manager of the state Department of Health’s Radioactive Air Emissions program. He said in his more than two decades there, he’s never seen anything like it.

“We want to make sure that contamination stays within the work area within the contamination area that it’s expected to be in,” Martell said. “And so seeing those numbers out there is an indication their [federal contractors] controls are not working.”

Martell did stress the levels of contamination are low, and he doesn’t believe there is any serious public health risk.