Radioactively Contaminated Sites
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Improper handling of radioactive materials in large and small industries can create extensive contamination of buildings, equipment, and land. These sites are not only dangerous but are expensive to clean up. Below are examples of contaminated sites to which EPA responded.
On this page:
- Gulf Nuclear Responses, 2005
- Preservation Aviation, 2005
- Bear Lake Radiation Site, Michigan, 1995
- Ramp Industries, Colorado, 1994
- Radium Chemical Company, New York, 1989
Gulf Nuclear Responses, 2005
Gulf Nuclear was a radioactive source manufacturing facility. EPA's Radiological Emergency Response Team (RERT) provided technical assistance on radiation issues at three separate Gulf Nuclear Superfund sites within EPA's Region 6, which serves Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and New Mexico.
RERT staff assessed the site and provided partial removal services:
- stabilized the site
- disposed of 75 cubic yards of non-contaminated debris
- removed fire hazards
- characterized and inventoried the radiation sources still on the site.
RERT staff also supported field monitoring by the on-site contractor, consulted on radiation safety, scanned the site using their scanner van.
Webster and Tavenor Sites
Both sites were large production facilities that were contaminated extensively with a variety of radionuclides including Cesium-137, Americium-241, Cobalt-60 and Radium-226. The Webster site was located near the NASA Johnson Space Center and the Tavenor site was near the Houston Hobby Airport.
RERT provided assistance to both sites:
- provided instrumentation
- conducted initial site assessment
- reviewed documents
- provided on-site health and safety expertise
- characterized unknown radioactive materials
- supplied radiation expert advice to contractors during monitoring.
Staff participated in soil sampling and performed analytical analyses on approximately 300 samples.
Preservation Aviation 2005
EPA Region 9 requested RERT assistance at the Preservation Aviation removal site in North Hollywood, CA. It was one of a series of sites involving radium-dial aircraft gauges to which EPA has responded. This site was perhaps the largest found at that time. Two small warehouses were filled to overflowing with more than one million obsolete World War II aircraft gauges. Additional gauges were found in an outside storage yard in old wooden and cardboard boxes, many of which were leaking.
The large amount of debris, the poor condition of the site, and lack of security created an extreme fire hazard. RERT staff concluded that rapid action was necessary to prevent a fire which would have released radioactivity and other hazardous materials from the gauges.
The EPA Region 9 On-Scene Coordinator took immediate action to stabilize the site and provided round-the-clock security until the cleanup ended. The RERT, Regional, and START contractor personnel developed a detailed screening and evaluation protocol that allowed a rapid site cleanup.
Once all gauges were removed, the response teams conducted a detailed assessment of the warehouse buildings and grounds. Enough contamination remained in both areas to warrant removal of the warehouses and paved areas. Following the cleanup, a "lessons learned" conference, developed procedures for streamlining future cleanups of this type.
Bear Lake Radiation Site, Michigan, 1995
In 1994, EPA Region 5 and the Michigan Department of Public Health discovered a home in Bear Lake, Michigan that was heavily contaminated with radium as the result of a home business that repaired and repainted radium aircraft dials.
In 1995, under an emergency, time-critical removal action, EPA relocated the family and attempted to decontaminate their possessions, home, and land. The possessions could not be decontaminated and were disposed of as radioactive waste. The home was demolished and the debris and large volumes of soil from the property were also disposed of as radioactive waste.
Ramp Industries, Colorado, 1994
Ramp Industries, a facility approximately three miles north of downtown Denver, operated for 12 years as a broker of low-level radioactive and mixed wastes. The facility had been cited for a variety of hazardous waste and radiological material violations.
When EPA secured the abandoned property in 1994, there were approximately 5,000 55-gallon drums of waste on the site. Response personnel from EPA Region 8 supervised the testing and characterization of waste on the site and provided recommendations for disposal of the waste and decontamination of the property.
Radium Chemical Company, New York, 1989
At the abandoned Radium Chemical Company's site in New York City, inspections revealed radiation levels so high that in the most contaminated parts of the building, a person could exceed the yearly occupational exposure limit after only one hour.
In 1989 EPA led the emergency effort to remove dangerous radioactive material from the site. EPA's team, clad in highly protective gear, used a remote-controlled device to help pack 10,000 radium needles in specially designed 1,600-pound, steel and lead-lined drums. The team also packed 150 drums and steel boxes with contaminated debris and shipped them to a low-level radioactive waste site for safe disposal.