Friday, July 29, 2005

Am-241 Incident

Here is an example of the importance of reporting all the facts in a press release.

I have been following the Am-241 contamination incident in the news and on the LANL:The Real Story blog for the past two days. From what I read, I assumed that the person was contaminated by handling Am-241 metal. The deployment of the DOE Radiological Assistance Program team to survey the persons car and home made me believe that this was a very serious incident. Reading that the person plus five more people, who worked in the same area, were put on a bioassay program further increased my concern. Reading that people were sent home while experts cleaned the workspace and the person's car and residence did nothing to reduce my concern.

Today, a responder to the blog said that the material the person handled were encapsulated uranium nitride pellets externally contaminated with Am-241. Adam Rankin of the Albuquerque Journal said:
"We were not told how the individual was contaminated or in what form the americium was in. I only happen to know the shipment contained uranium nitride pellets because I got a copy of Wallace's e-mail, which did not make it clear that the pellets were externally contaminated, if that is indeed the case. We were told such questions were under investigation.
Remember, that being a reporter is like being blindfolded in a dark room and having a few hours to describe its contents and their purpose (my emphasis).
That said, I am always open to information that will improve my stories and their accuracy. Please, don't hesitate to contact me or get me the information."

But this is not the end of the story. What remains unanswered is:
What was contaminated? Were the vials or the pellets inside contaminated?
How did the material get contaminated? Were people at the source of the delivery, the delivery person, or the person(s) who received the material contaminated?
How big a deal is this? What is the risk of getting cancer to those contaminated?

Larry Creamer, LANL Retired
78 Granada Dr.
Los Alamos, NM 87544
(505)672-9433
lcreamer@mindspring.com

Comments:
Larry,

You clearly were not listening to Baghdad Bob as he put a "Happy Face" on this story yesterday:

"LANL Public Affairs Director Jim Fallin stated in an interview this morning that because of the "extreme low levels of contaminants we were dealing with, it was decided by our experts that there is no credible threat to the general public."
 
New LANL motto:

"Don't worry your pretty little head; we know what we're doing."
 
7/29/2005 04:28:44 PM said:
Larry,

"You clearly were not listening to Baghdad Bob as he put a "Happy Face" on this story yesterday:..."

Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. Please forgive me, I am just a retired DX-Division butthead cowboy who obviously cares nothing about safety and security and compliance. Do you think we will hear more about this incident?
 
Anonymous : 7/29/2005 05:47:43 PM
You forgot to say "Trust us!"
 
Move along, citizens. Nothing to see here. Return to your work assignments. All is well. The situation is returning to normal. Move along, citizens. The danger is passed. Safety is everyone's business. All is well. Return to your work assignments. Move along, citizens.
 
I don't see how this really is all that big of a deal. Whether the contamination was on the outside or not, the fact is that there is still only a very small amount present in one of the employee's home. Is this really a danger to anyone else but the employee and his family? Is this even a danger to the employee? Doubtful. Why make a big deal out of it when it is not warranted?
 
7/29/2005 07:32:22 PM said:
"I don't see how this really is all that big of a deal. Whether the contamination was on the outside or not, the fact is that there is still only a very small amount present in one of the employee's home. Is this really a danger to anyone else but the employee and his family? Is this even a danger to the employee? Doubtful. Why make a big deal out of it when it is not warranted?"

That's the point. The original report to the blog made the incident seem like a very dangerous incident. The PR report from LANL made it seem worse by mention of involvement by the DOE Radiological Assistance Program team.

Now it seems that it was not such a big deal as we were led to believe. My suggestion to you is to take everything you read with a grain of salt no matter where the "news" comes from.
 
Larry -- you are dead wrong on this issue. There is an ongoing investigation, and the facts are still being determined. It is very important for all those involved to understand exactly what happened. Further, it is important to identify the contamination and clean it up completely. This is not about getting titbits out to the press or the blog so that they can be second guessed or analyzed by armchair radtechs. Your comments, and Rakins follow up point to one of the big problems of the blog -- half baked analysis with a little anger at Uc thrown in for good measure.

The blog has its place. It is not the place to provide health and safety analysis. I am sure you think that you are an expert Larry -- but you just churn the anti-lab thugs.
 
Being anti-lab does not make one a thug. More often than not, it makes one a person with a conscience.
 
Any radioactive contamination that is present outside of a"Radiologically Controlled Area" should be considered a serious incident. A lack of control indicates a problem has occured. There is a potential for a future spread of contamination if the problem is not brought under control.
 
Now, how does anti-lab equal conscience? I'm missing something here... I'm perfectly happy with people being anti-weapon, anti-contamination, and anti-war, but making a gross generalization regarding anti-lab just reeks of ignorance and ill-informed, sheep-like thought processes.
 
Agreed, 03:18. The blog is here to help us find solutions to real problems, not gripe about vaguely defined evils or "Baghdad Bob." From all appearances LANL PR has been on target with this incident - it's just that some people need to see Fallin run around screaming "We're gonna die!" before they'll believe him. It's pathetic.
 
Feel free to correct me if I'm wrong, but I beleive the point that was being made about "Baghdad Bob" Fallin is that his track record over the past year is one that LANL should not be proud of, and that he is therefore a problem. An example of the scope of the problem was his willingness to shut down the LANL NewsBulletin last July. Another is his dubious record regarding reporting the truth about affairs at LANL.

Now that's pathetic.
 
7/29/2005 07:54:54 PM said:
"Larry -- you are dead wrong on this issue. There is an ongoing investigation, and the facts are still being determined. It is very important for all those involved to understand exactly what happened. Further, it is important to identify the contamination and clean it up completely. This is not about getting titbits out to the press or the blog so that they can be second guessed or analyzed by armchair radtechs. Your comments, and Rakins follow up point to one of the big problems of the blog -- half baked analysis with a little anger at Uc thrown in for good measure."

It is true that the investigation is ongoing and I'm sure more facts will come out. However, the incident was reported on the blog, and in a LANL press release with information that led people like me to believe that someone was contaminated from handling Am-241 and that that contamination was spread in the Sigma building and White Rock. If the press release had said that the material the person handled were encapsulated uranium nitride pellets externally contaminated with Am-241 we might not have been so concerned.

What did I say in my post that led you to believe that I am angry at UC? They send me a check the first of each month. I am disappointed with LANL PR in that they do not do as good a job as I expect them to do when reporting incidents such as this. That is the reason for the post. I'm just prodding.

7/29/2005 07:54:54 PM also said:
"The blog has its place. It is not the place to provide health and safety analysis. I am sure you think that you are an expert Larry -- but you just churn the anti-lab thugs."

Here, I disagree totally with you. I an certainly not an expert in radiation safety, but I have more than twenty years experience in hazard analysis and writing safety procedures. If I see something that needs to be questioned, it is my responsibility to do so. If it turns out that I did not have all the facts, that's fine as long as I made someone think and respond.

The anti-lab thugs don't need me to churn them. They churn themselves. I'm here to churn people like you who care deeply about the Lab. You gotta admit I did a good job. Keep in mind, as more facts are discovered and reported, the questions I asked at the end of my post. When they are answered, I will be satisfied.
 
May We Introduce Ourselves?
===========================

As we are many paramecium,
We do not mind this americium

Sparkly dust to light our way
Gently glow our ciliae

Neutron, gamma, electroweak
Our genes are splitting, so to speak
No more slime, its mutant time!
Up from muddy puddles, climb!

Soon you'll see us on the mesas
Looming, green, dos cabezas
Fanged, rolling, in your faces
There will be no hiding places

Sing the song of ancient strife!
Claw and club, spear and knife.

Species come, and species go.
We are paramecium. We know.
 
So we had a premature announcement of the Am-241 incident, which gave a lot of people the wrong impression, including seasoned former staffers like Larry. At what point is it better to let the responsible professionals--who operate under very prescriptive regulations--get on with their work and give the system time to respond with appropriate levels of information? When is it critical for us to rush in and announce that a crisis has occurred? Was the poster here just leaping in with an opportunity to embarrass LANL?

How about Michael Lynn announcing some details of a Cisco security vulnerability at the Black Hat conference last week. Is that responsible?
Gary
 
Gary said:
"So we had a premature announcement of the Am-241 incident, which gave a lot of people the wrong impression, including seasoned former staffers like Larry."

I don't think the original post was premature. Ten days went by after the incident, with business as usual at MST-6, before they knew anything about the problem. The poster seemed to be concerned that the contamination had already spread during that time. I think the poster was very angry that it took so long to discover the problem.

Gary went on to ask:
"When is it critical for us to rush in and announce that a crisis has occurred? Was the poster here just leaping in with an opportunity to embarrass LANL?"

Did Director Nanos wait for all the facts last July when he announced the alleged CREM incident? Did he just leap in with an opportunity to embarrass LANL?
 
Come on Larry- Answer the question.

To answer that 'Nanos erred, so it is okay for everyone else to do so too' does not pass elementary logic.
What about revealing Cisco vulnerabilities when they were aware and working on them? What about Richard Morse? If his concerns were valid (which he seems to believe), do you guys think it the right thing to go public?

What is the logic and value system operating here?
Gary
 
Gary,

I'm not Larry, but I think I can give you a reasonable answer as to why comparisons to Cisco vulnerabilities or Mr. Morse are red herrings. The principal difference in the recent event is that when people's health and safety are at risk, you pass on as much of the information you have as soon as you have it, with the proviso that the information is preliminary and may change as more data comes to light. There was no potential for anyone to get physically hurt by anything that was or was not released with regard to Cisco.

While the probability of anyone having a serious issue as a result of the Am241 release is low, it is possible. The contaminated employee was walking around town, and apparently "other" locations for nearly 2 weeks spreading contamination. LANL had a responsibilty to let the rest of us know we, and our families, were being potentially exposed as soon as they knew it. The fact that they chose not to, and that their many apologists, including you, are trying to clothe this choice in DOE reporting requirements, is pitiful.
 
Gary said:
"Come on Larry- Answer the question.

To answer that 'Nanos erred, so it is okay for everyone else to do so too' does not pass elementary logic."

I've been reading the original post and my comments to other comments. I must be going blind because I can't see where I said that.

Gary asked:
"What about revealing Cisco vulnerabilities when they were aware and working on them? What about Richard Morse? If his concerns were valid (which he seems to believe), do you guys think it the right thing to go public?"

I did not respond to that question earlier because I think you are comparing apples (safety) to oranges (security). I cannot say better than 8/01/2005 08:26:45 AM did in response to your question. Thank you 8/01/2005 08:26:45 AM.
 
I am neither Gary nor Larry, but I am really glad to have the blog -- and other blogs like it -- to question the "facts" as presented by PR reps hired to make LANL or any other institution look good. PR types anywhere are hired to control the news. Thank goodness for a place where everything is questioned.
There are many ugly and pointlessly nasty posts on the blog, but it serves the purpose of allowing ordinary people to question the truth being fed them. As such this blog and others are helping to keep democracy alive in these repressive times.
 
Most interesting, this incident of Radiological Contamination. In 1972 I was sent by the U.S. Navy to San Diego for
training, and final orders. While waiting approx. a week for the orders, I was assigned Fire and Security duty, in and around the barracks in which I was staying. I arrived at my post one day around 3:45 P.M.in order to take the place of the young man who had the previous hours' duty. Before leaving for the day, the young man told me of his experience in coming to San Diego. It seems that his previous duty station had been China Lake, where he had worked as a cook in the base chow hall. He spoke of an incident one day, centered around an ammunition bunker
across the street-lots of emergency vehicles, military police, etc. They spent most of the morning there.
In the afternoon, they entered the chow hall, and began asking how everyone "felt". In a couple of days, the young
man was collected, along with others, and taken to the base clinic, for some "routine testing". After a few days of this, they began to ask why they were there. "Oh, just some testing" they were told. (blood test, urinalysis, X-rays,
etc). Eventually the young man was sent to San Diego for discharge processing. I asked him if he had signed anything? He said no, but that they had asked him to sign some kind of "release". That's when I blew up-I told him that, in NO CASE
was he to sign ANYTHING, and I explained that, according to what he
had described, there had been a nuclear accident at the ammunition bunker that day, and that most likely he and others were suffering
from radiation poisoning. I again stressed that he not sign anything,
but to get himself a lawyer, due to
the apparent attempt to "slide him out the side door" without a dime.
"Radiological Contamination"? "Nuclear Accident"? Cover-up? Nothing changes......
 
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