Wednesday, July 27, 2005


To: Recipient List Suppressed:
Sent: Wednesday, July 27, 2005 4:15 PM

Communications and External Relations Division
Public Affairs Office

CONTACT: Kathy DeLucas, 505-667-5225, 05-060


A decontamination team made up of experts from the Los Alamos National Laboratory, the National Nuclear Security Administration and Los Alamos County are conducting a decontamination operation at the home of a Laboratory employee today. This action is being taken after an investigation confirmed that contamination was present in the employee's workspace and that the employee had received radiological contamination to his skin and his personal clothing while working at the Laboratory.

Upon discovery of the contamination incident by a Laboratory employee on Monday, health physics and nuclear response experts were sent to the employee's house as part of the Department of Energy's Radiological Assistance Program (RAP) team to survey the employee's car and residence. The survey detected trace amounts of americium 241 in the car and in several locations inside the employee's home.

Americium 241 is a man-made metal produced when plutonium atoms absorb neutrons in a nuclear reaction. The largest and most widespread use of americium-241 is as a component in household and industrial smoke detectors, where a small amount is used in an ionization chamber inside the detector.

Experts involved in the investigation have estimated that the amount carried off site is a fraction of the radioactivity contained in a typical residential smoke detector.

Officials are also examining any possibility that the contamination was more widely spread to other locations. However, the extremely low levels of radioactive material found at the employee's home do not pose a credible risk to the general public.

An investigation is underway to determine the origin of the contamination and whether established safety procedures and protocols were followed.

"Our first concern is to ensure that every employee is safe and that the general public is protected," said Laboratory Director Robert Kuckuck. "We believe that this has been accomplished."

"It is important that we establish the causes of this event and whether our institutional procedures were adequate and followed so that we can learn from this incident and take appropriate measures to prevent this from happening in the future," Kuckuck added.

The researcher has been placed on a special bioassay-sampling regimen. These are tests that reliably measure the amount of americium in a urine sample, even at very low levels. Using these measurements, scientists can estimate the total amount of americium 241 present in the body. Tests are also being conducted to determine if any americium is present in the researcher's lungs.

Five coworkers who work in the same workspace have also been placed on similar bioassay sampling regimens.

Workers in the facility where the contamination occurred were sent home Tuesday afternoon so experts could complete radiological surveys and clean up any residual contaminants in the building. Subsequent testing has confirmed that no other employees in the facility have been contaminated.

RAP is NNSA's first-responding resource in assessing such situations and advising decision-makers on what further steps could be taken to evaluate and minimize the hazards off site. Specific areas of expertise include assessment, area monitoring, and air sampling, exposure and contamination control.

RAP is capable of providing assistance in all types of radiological incidents. Requests for assistance may relate to facility or transportation accidents involving radiation or radioactive material. RAP's support ranges from giving technical information or advice over the telephone to sending highly trained people and state-of-the-art equipment to the accident site to help identify and minimize any radiological hazards.

Los Alamos National Laboratory is operated by the University of California for the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) of the U.S. Department of Energy and works in partnership with NNSA's Sandia and Lawrence Livermore national laboratories to support NNSA in its mission.

Los Alamos enhances global security by ensuring the safety and reliability of the U.S. nuclear stockpile, developing technologies to reduce threats from weapons of mass destruction, and solving problems related to energy, environment, infrastructure, health and national security concerns.


For more Los Alamos news releases, visit World Wide Web site

They found that one worker had contaminated his house two days ago after walking around contaminated for 10 days. When do you suppose LANL was going to let the rest of us know about this little episode? You don't suppose the posting this morning on the blog had anything to do with LANL suddenly opening up and providing info, do you? Apparently it takes a flood of reporters calling the LANL Public Affairs office to pry information out of the lab these days.
Contaminated for 10 days???

Hopefully the entire town isn't contaminated...
1. No official mention of when contamination occurred. But the statement, "Upon discovery of the contamination incident by a Laboratory employee on Monday," could almost be misleading.
2. Compared the amount to the amount in a smoke detector. No mention of the form the Am-241 was in. Safe to assume it was a powder? Powder would be much more dangerous than the composite Am-241 in smoke detectors.
3. Maybe a definition of "general public" is in order.
One only needs to look at our overseer’s, it is not U of C, it is DOE/LANL. They are office bound professionals and produce only paper. It is only natural that their answer to everything is a report. LANL has become so prescriptive in response to safety and security that accidents will continue and increase. So here we are again, judgment and common sense has been taken out of the equation and replaced with a checklist. I only hope the person involved followed the checklist. Reports do not protect people or security, only common sense and judgment can do that. Unfortunately, it appears that both are in short supply at this time
Homer Simpson sez: Let's close down the Lab !

But we tried that last year, and it didn't work. can we blame this on Nanos and Foley?
Gary, I don't know. But I'm sure you'll tell us why we can't.
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