Max exposure from Y-12' s dirty respirators reported to be equal to 10 chest X-rays

The government's contractor at the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant says the maximum radiation dose any worker could have received from using a dirty respirator was about 100 millirems -- roughly the equivalent of having 10 chest X-rays.

That's based on the most contaminated equipment found so far as B&W Y-12 continues to investigate the extent of the problem at the Oak Ridge plant, where workers use respirators to protect themselves while performing tasks in certain radiological areas.

Last week, a rad technician discovered that some of the plant's respiratory equipment, including masks and breathing tubes, were contaminated with uranium -- even though they had been sent to an off-site laundry facility and reportedly returned to Y-12 in packages certifying they were clean. Subsequent inspections found more than 200 pieces of supposedly clean equipment that had "unacceptable levels" of contamination.

B&W this week provided information to Y-12 employees on the situation. "There is currently no evidence that workers have been harmed," the contractor said.

Ellen Boatner, a spokeswoman at the plant, said many of the employees who work in the radiological areas routinely undergo bioassay tests -- involving urine and fecal samples -- to help identify potential concerns. If there had been unusual exposures or ingestion of radioactive materials, those would have showed up in the test results, she said.

"We've seen no spikes (in the radiation counts)," she said.

If workers have individual concerns about their potential exposures, they can ask for additional tests, Boatner said.

Global Solutions LLC, a business unit of Global BGITM Corp., has the contract for cleaning and reconditioning Y-12's respirators and related equipment after they've been used. That work is carried out in partnership with UniTech, a nuclear services company that doe the respirator cleaning at its Barnwell, S.C. facility.

A team from Y-12 visited the South Carolina site last week to evaluate the procedures and processes used in the respirator cleaning operations, but B&W has not released the findings of the investigation.

"B&W continues to work with the vendor to determine the cause of the contamination," the Y-12 contractor said.

When contacted by phone, Mike Fuller, the manager of health physics at UniTech's headquarters in Springfield, Mass., said the company didn't have any comment.

Buddy Garland, the founder of Global BGITM Corp. and former executive at the U.S. Department of Energy, did not return calls to his office.


About this blog

    Frank MungerSenior 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. Contact Frank.

Entries by category. (The number of entries per category is in brackets)