Update on radioactive respirators

There has not been much new information released this week regarding the contaminated respirators at the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant and the weeks-long investigation ongoing there. There apparently are no firm conclusions about how the situation came to be or how it will be resolved, although Y-12 public affairs director David Keim said more information should be forthcoming next week.
Keim said the investigation team is trying to wrap up information on how many of the reconditioned respirators failed to meet the standards for use. Keim confirmed that there is still a ban on receipt of any shipments from the vendor — Global Solutions LLC/UniTech — that cleans the respirators, as well as a ban on shipments of used respirators from Y-12 to the vendor.


Keim said Y-12 has enough respirators stockpiled to last for at least another 3-4 months, so there is no immediate concern of running short and affecting operations at the Oak Ridge plant.
Keim said Y-12 typically uses about 4,500 laundered respirators a year, which is somewhere in the range of 300-400 a month depending on the plant’s activities. The biggest uses are in construction and maintenance, he said.
“They’re used mostly for rad work, but also to protect against airborne contaminants such as asbestos and mercury,” he said.
The Y-12 spokesman said the plant has received shipments of reconditioned respirators on a varied scheduled, from a couple of times a week to once every few weeks or so. He emphasized the top priority at Y-12 is the health and safety of employees.
Respirators are only used once at Y-12 without being cleaned, and currently those used respirators are being bagged and segregated until a decision is made on how to proceed, Keim said.

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About Frank Munger

Senior Writer Frank Munger covers the Dept. of Energy's Oak Ridge facilities and many related topics — nuclear weapons, nuclear waste and other things nuclear, environmental cleanup and science of all sorts. Atomic City Underground is, first and foremost, a news blog, but there's room for analysis, opinion and random thoughts that have no place else to go.