Udall wants safety plan after spill in Boulder lab
DENVER ” Colorado congressman Mark Udall is demanding that a federal laboratory “get its act together” and implement a safety plan after a plutonium spill at its Boulder campus last month.
Udall spoke Tuesday after a congressional hearing with officials from the National Institute of Standards and Technology.
Some NIST researchers had internal plutonium exposure from the June 7 incident. Such exposure can lead to cancer but NIST officials have said none of the employees are expected to suffer health problems.
An internal NIST report on the incident has found that employees had inadequate training for handling plutonium or didn’t follow proper procedures after a vial cracked with about a quarter gram of powder containing plutonium inside.
After the spill, a scientist washed his hands in a sink, sending a small amount of plutonium into Boulder’s public sewer system. Boulder officials said there were no adverse effects from the potential release.
Researchers were conducting an experiment involving a spectroscopy system used to detect radiation.
Udall says the lab does “admirable work” but must do it safely.
“NIST overlooked the most basic safety procedure, and it’s unacceptable to me and it should be to them,” he said.
Udall said James Turner, NIST acting director, told him corrective measures are being implemented, including a “safety checklist.”
Udall said NIST should also notify state and local agencies of any spill.
At the hearing, Turner called the spill “unacceptable” and said NIST welcomes any input from Congress.
Turner told the House Science and Technology’s subcommittee on technology and innovation that the incident was “preventable” and the result of handler error.
“We are strengthening NIST safety programs and I am committed to ensuring that our managers and all our employees and associates make safety their most important priority,” he said in a written statement.
Federal officials ordered the lab to stop using radioactive materials until it shows it has proper procedures to handle them.
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