Environment News Service

AmeriScan: December 20, 1999

NO FINE FOR WORKER CONTAMINATION AT NATIONAL LAB

ARGONNE, Illinois, December 20, 1999 (ENS) - The Department of Energy (DOE) has issued a Preliminary Notice of Violation to its Argonne National Laboratory-East for violations of the laboratory's procedures designed to protect workers from unplanned radiation exposures. The violations concern two incidents that caused several workers to be contaminated with radioactive materials. DOE categorized the violations as a Severity Level II, on a scale of Level I (most serious) to Level III (least serious). Because of the safety significance of the two events, the DOE would have issued a civil penalty of $110,000. But since Argonne is one of the department's laboratories exempt from civil penalties by law, the lab will not be fined.

The first event occurred in June 1998, when five Argonne personnel were contaminated while inspecting equipment that had been in storage for many years. A DOE investigation found that violations included inadequate planning, inadequate protective clothing, failure to stop work once contamination was identified and inadequate radiological monitoring of personnel resulting in contaminated personnel leaving the area. The second event, in June of 1999, involved three workers receiving doses of cesium 137 during a leak test of a sealed source of radiation. The DOE says the lab had failed to develop a work plan, conduct proper surveys or use appropriate protective clothing.

While both events resulted in radiation exposures that were well within regulatory limits, the DOE expressed concern that, given the violations of work controls and the amount of radioactive material available, the exposures could have been much greater. The investigation found laboratory management was reluctant to acknowledge the serious nature of the incidents, and treated them as a series of individual personnel errors. "Of particular concern to me is evidence that suggests your radiation protection staff may lack adequate management support to exercise their stop-work authority when circumstances warrant it," wrote David Michaels, DOE assistant secretary for Environment, Safety and Health in a letter to the acting laboratory director.

Environment News Service (ENS) 1999. All Rights Reserved.