Southeast Missouri State University
For more information, contact:
Ann K. Hayes (573) 651-2552
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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

REGENTS APPROVE PLANS FOR FURTHER TESTING, SURVEYING CONCERNING RADIATION CONTAMINATION

CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo., April 20, 2002 - The Southeast Missouri State University Board of Regents today approved a spending increase for further testing and evaluation in relation to the Magill Hall radiation contamination project.

The Regents approved spending an additional $292,000 for the completion of requirements mandated by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). Those requirements include further evaluations of limited parts of the University plumbing system, a campus-wide scoping survey for the presence of contaminated science equipment, and health physics evaluations and exposure modeling for University employees in the Department of Chemistry.

The planned work is the result of recent routine evaluations of the Magill and Rhodes Hall plumbing systems in which Southeast's Radiation Safety Officer, Dr. Walt Lilly, discovered sediment in the buildings' acid dilution pits. Acid dilution pits are found at the outflow of drains from sinks and are about two feet deep and three feet square. The pits are designed to dilute concentrated acids poured into sinks, and are not a health risk.

Officials with Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC), the consulting firm the University hired in 2000 to handle the Magill Hall contamination case, were asked to test the sediment in the pits and discovered small amounts of radioactive materials in them.

Dr. Chris McGowan, dean of the College of Science and Mathematics, said americium-241 discovered in sediment in the pits was below the allowable level as outlined by the NRC. But the combination of other radioactive substances, including lead isotopes and cesium, also found in the pits, placed the radioactivity above the allowable level, even though it is believed there is no health threat.

As a result, the NRC has mandated that additional testing be performed to evaluate the potential of further contamination in the plumbing system. Inspection and testing of the plumbing systems in Rhodes and Magill halls have been scheduled to be completed in May at a cost of $40,000. Officials with SAIC, the consulting firm the University hired in 2000 to handle the Magill Hall contamination case, will be evaluating the plumbing systems.

Depending on the extent of work necessary, the cost of remediating the plumbing systems is estimated at $200,000.

"This work will depend on the amount and extent of contamination that is discovered in the plumbing systems and cannot be fully determined until testing is complete," McGowan said.

In addition, the Board approved a University-wide scoping survey to be conducted during the weeks of April 22 and 29. This survey, estimated to cost $12,000, will include the visual inspection of all rooms on the campus, except for residence halls rooms, for the presence of equipment, furniture or fixtures that previously may have been in Magill Hall.

The scoping survey also is the result of ongoing safety screening processes in which University Radiation Safety Officer, Dr. Walt Lilly, recently discovered a contaminated table in a storage room in Johnson Hall while looking for the acid dilution pit there. This room is being used by the Department of Chemistry. Lilly recognized immediately that this table was like the tables that had once been used in Magill 242, McGowan said.

Magill 242 was the old radiochemistry laboratory where elevated levels of americium-241 were found two years ago. Lilly surveyed the table and found a small spot with elevated levels of radioactivity, some of which could be wiped off the table.

"We believe this radioactivity is caused by americium-241," McGowan said, so the table was reported to the NRC.

"Since this room was not in one of the buildings originally believed to have been affected by the americium issue, the room was not included in last year's screening of Magill and Rhodes Halls," he said. "Because this table was found in a chemistry storage room, we believe that the problem equipment is probably confined to that room. However, while we think this is an isolated instance, the NRC is concerned that other materials that were associated with the historical use of americium in Magill 242 may have migrated outside of the science areas on campus."

Although it is unlikely that any additional materials will be found, at the request of the NRC, the University will conduct a visual "scoping survey" of all rooms in every academic and administrative building on campus.

"We will be looking for any items that may have been associated with past radiochemical activities in Magill," McGowan said.

To perform this visual survey, the University will use teams of graduate students in biology, chemistry and geosciences. These students will receive special training and a list of the type of items for which to look, including lab tables, wooden stools and scientific equipment. If any such items are discovered, they will be surveyed for radioactivity. If any radioactive items are found, they will be treated as waste, McGowan said, and removed during a planned waste haul.

"The scoping plan, including the removal of any waste, is being developed in consultation with our consultant, SAIC, and will be approved by the NRC before implementation," McGowan said.

He added that because of the potential for other contaminated equipment to exist that previously resided in Magill Hall, the NRC has requested health physics evaluations and exposure modeling, which may lead to additional bioassay testing, for University employees in the Department of Chemistry. Cost of the health physics evaluations is estimated at $40,000.

Funding for all of the work will come from a contingency fund established with reimbursements from Factory Mutual Insurance Company, the University's property insurance company that carried the policy at the time of the original americium-241 claim.

 

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