Environment News Service

AmeriScan: May 26, 2000

PORTSMOUTH WORKERS EXPOSED TO RADIATION FOR DECADES

WASHINGTON, DC, May 26, 2000 (ENS) - Workers at the Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant in Ohio were exposed to uranium dust, arsenic and other toxins for decades, the DOE reported Thursday. The Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant is one of two facilities owned by the U.S. government which enrich uranium for use as fuel in nuclear power reactors. Certain work activities and locations were more risky for workers than others, the agency said in releasing the results of a five month investigation of past and current practices that affected the environment and the safety and health of workers and the public at the plant. Personnel working in the oxide conversion section of the plant were exposed to continuous airborne and surface radioactive contamination between 1957 and 1978. Workers were also exposed to asbestos, beryllium and PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls).

The report concludes that current operations in DOE controlled areas of the plant do not present an immediate risk to workers or the public, but that there are also weaknesses that need to be addressed. Work has begun to reduce the spread of contamination from waste areas and to public areas beyond the plant's boundaries. The DOE says progress has been made implementing existing cleanup agreements, and the plant is in full compliance with state and federal Environmental Protection Agency requirements. The team did not look at uranium enrichment operations now conducted at the plant by the United States Enrichment Corp., which is regulated by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. "Our investigations of the Energy Department's environmental, safety and health practices during the Cold War help in determining additional steps we can take today to correct the wrongs of the past," said Assistant Secretary for Environment, Safety and Health Dr. David Michaels. "While this report confirms that workers and the public aren't at risk, there are actions the department can and will take to promote the safety and heath of our workers and the public." The full report is available at: http://www.tis.eh.doe.gov/oversight/reviews/portsmouth/

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