The levels are low, but if some microparticles are inhaled or ingested by nuclear-site workers or their families, the radioactive dust is a “potential source of internal radiation exposure,” the study’s author writes.
Dust samples from the homes of six Hanford nuclear-site workers in the Tri-City area contained traces of radioactive contamination, according to a study published this month in the Journal of Environmental Engineering Science.
The levels are low, but if some microparticles are inhaled or ingested by the workers or their families, the radioactive dust is a “potential source of internal radiation exposure,” writes Marco Kaltofen, a civil engineer whose peer-reviewed study also found radioactive particles in dust samples in nuclear workers’ homes near the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico and the former Rocky Flats Plant in Colorado.
The particles were found in samples collected over a period of years from the homes of the nuclear workers and those of their neighbors. Inhalation of the particles, which included uranium, thorium, plutonium and americium, can increase the risk of cancer.
Kaltofen told The Seattle Times that, in several of the Hanford homes, the dust represented a public-health risk level above what is considered acceptable under the standards developed by the International Commission on Radiological Protection.
“These radioactive particles are tiny and difficult to detect once you get a few inches away,” said Kaltofen, who is affiliated with Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts. “But once inside the body, the distance from our tissue is essentially zero.”
Kaltofen said his research indicates that some other homes likely have low levels of radioactive contamination, and he recommended more testing.
The Times on Tuesday forwarded the study to John Martell, the state Department of Health’s manager of Radioactive Air Emissions Section, for comment.
After an initial read, Martell said the levels found in the study appear to be low, and “is not jumping out to us as a public health risk.” But he said that his staff was still reviewing the numbers reported in the study, numbers that are in a different format than he typically sees.
“The bottom line is we want to make sure everything is OK. We take public health seriously.”
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