The Paducah Sun
The Paducah Sun
Paducah, Kentucky

DOE: No phosgene danger at gaseous diffusion plant

Whitfield was informed as a follow-up to his Jan. 19 field hearing here.

By Joe Walker

Thursday, February 16, 2006

The U.S. Department of Energy has assured Rep. Ed Whitfield there is no hazardous phosgene in 14 cylinders of spent uranium hexafluoride at the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant.

DOE officials informed Whitfield, R-Hopkinsville, on Wednesday, said Jeff Miles, press secretary for the congressman.

“They said they reviewed the records and determined that the overwhelming majority of canisters had been purged or cleaned,’ Miles said. “Those they couldn´t link up with records were either tested or purged and cleaned. They have been able to decide there was no phosgene in those canisters.’

Miles said the finding eliminates a potential threat to workers and plant neighbors because phosgene is a highly corrosive chemical once used in warfare.

A Sept. 30 memo from the DOE Inspector General´s Office said that based on preliminary findings, phosgene may have been left in some of the 1,825 cylinders at Paducah. The memo referred to a 2000 report that some of the cylinders were very rusty and others may have been breached. DOE officials later downplayed the memo, saying they had narrowed potential phosgene contamination to only several cylinders at Paducah.

Phosgene was one of the topics covered by Whitfield on Jan. 19 in a House Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee field hearing at Paducah City Hall. James Rispoli, assistant DOE secretary for environmental management, testified he did not think there was phosgene in the cylinders, but that testing would begin within a few days to determine for sure.

The canisters were acquired by DOE from the Army´s Chemical Warfare Service in the 1940s and 1950s. Testing of 11 similar cylinders at a closed uranium enrichment plant in Piketon, Ohio, showed no phosgene, Rispoli said at the hearing.