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Safety Officers at Air Force Base Relieved of Duties

November 6, 1987

DAYTON, Ohio (AP) _ Regulations governing the handling of radioactive waste were changed after an alleged cover-up of a radioactive spill was uncovered at Wright-Patters on Air Force Base, a base spokesman said.

In addition, two base safety officers involved in the incident were relieved of some of their duties but were not fired, said Don Swan, the spokesman.

Justice Department spokesman John Russell said the department is investigating the Sept. 18, 1986, incident at the request of the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission. An NRC spokesman declined comment.

Meanwhile, U.S. Sen. John Glenn, D-Ohio, said Thursday he wants to know whether the Air Force misled Gov. Richard Celeste when it described the spills as minor. Glenn said he may bring the matter before the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, which he chairs.

And some Boy Scout leaders said they were angry that Air Force officials hadn’t told them that workers contaminated in the spill washed at a spigot at a scout camp on the base a day before more than 200 scouts from four states stayed there for a weekend.

The officials maintained that there was no contamination of the ground or water and that the scouts were not endangered.

The radioactive material involved in the spill was part of two 30-gallon drums of americium-241 waste brought to the base for disposal by an east- central Ohio jeweler, according to published reports.

The Dayton Daily News and Journal Herald and The Columbus Dispatch reported today that jeweler John C. Haynes of Licking County said that 10 or 12 years ago he brought the radioactive waste to the base where his friend, James Lewis, was the radiological safety officer.

Federal agents raided his home in 1985 and Haynes later was fined for improperly handling the material, which he used to change the color of diamonds.

Americium powder is not considered dangerous on the skin, but can cause cancer if swallowed or inhaled, experts said.

The powder leaked out of an unlabeled barrel while four workers, including Lewis, were taking inventory in a storage building, said Lt. Col. John W. Swanson, a radiation medicine specialist in charge of cleaning up the material.

The Plain Dealer of Cleveland reported Thursday that NRC documents and unidentified sources said Lewis; Victor Dunn, deputy head of the department where Lewis works; and Lt. Col. Maynard G. Moody, former head of the department who has since retired, conspired for a week to cover up the spill.

″We believe that a few individuals were involved and made some errors. These people have been removed from handling radiological activities,″ Swan said.

Lewis and Dunn have not been fired, Swan said. Neither returned several telephone messages left at their office; Moody did not return a message left on an answering machine at his home.

Swanson said there was only one barrel of americium found at the building, which is less than a mile from the Boy Scout camp.

When Dunn told him Sept. 26 about the spill, Swanson said he ordered tests. No radiation was found beyond about 40 yards from the building, said John L. Ricci, the new base radiological safety officer. A soil sample taken at the scout camp spigot Sept. 19 also was free of radiation, Swanson said.

Scout troops from Ohio, Michigan, Kentucky and Indiana camped at the base that weekend.

Ricci, who inhaled the americium during the cleanup, still has americium in his urine. He’s unsure what the long-term effects will be.

The storage building housing the americium and other radioactive waste was dismantled at a cost of nearly $1 million. Most of the waste was shipped to South Carolina for disposal, but the americium drum is in a secure facility, Swanson said.

As part of the new Air Force regulations, waste will not be consolidated and it will be shipped from the base more frequently, making it easier to trace, Swanson said. Two people also must now sign for all waste shipments, he said.

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