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States Step Up Fallout Monitoring; No Health Threat Expected

April 30, 1986

Undated (AP) _ A hastily expanded network of radiation sensors in all 50 states sniffed the air Wednesday for signs of fallout from the nuclear plant disaster in the Soviet Union, but no increased radiation was reported.

Colorado’s Health Department issued a ″fallout alert,″ but that appeared to be no more than what other states were doing: watching and waiting. Some states activated monitors which had been idle for years.

″We don’t expect a problem,″ said John Baghott, director of the Colrado Health Department’s consumer protection division.

″We’re still thinking we’re not going to see much in the state, primarily because of the way the wind’s been blowing, although the weather can change,″ said Larry Anderson, director of Utah’s Bureau of Radiation Control.

″Everybody’s holding their breath and wondering what happened,″ Anderson said. ″We don’t expect to see anything for a couple of days if we see anything at all.″

The federal Environmental Protection Agency ordered intensified monitoring across the nation on Tuesday. Some idle stations were reactivated, and daily sampling became the rule at some stations which had only been checked once a week.

The plume from the devastated reactor at Chernobyl, in the Ukraine, at first drifted toward the west and might have continued toward Alaska and the Pacific Northwest. But Swedish meteorologists said Wednesday that winds had shifted, driving the plume toward Poland and Czechslovakia.

Sheldon Meyer, director of office of radiation programs with EPA, said in Washington Wedneday that the largest particles of fallout would drop within 100 miles of Chernobyl.

″Based upon the data we do have, we don’t expect that if that plume reaches the U.S., there would be any significant health effect on the population,″ he said.

Charlie Porter, director of federal Eastern Environmental Radiation Facility in Montgomery, Ala., said it might be days or weeks before any signs are detected in North America.

Washington state officials were paying close attention to readings in Alaska. ″If readings increase there we’ll have lead time to decide what steps should be taken here,″ said Gov. Booth Gardner’s press secretary, Jim Kneeland.

Kentucky reactivated a monitoring station in Frankfort which had been idle several years, said Edsel Moore, director of the cabinet’s Division of Radiation and Product Safety. A ground-level station in Lincoln, Neb., was also reactivated at the EPA’s request.

Jim Setser of the Georgia Environmental Protection Division said the state was not advising residents to take any precautions now.

″You can unduly alarm people and cause more stress and more damage than by the actual problem itself,″ he said Wednesday. ″We would know long before it ever reached Georgia that it was coming in.″

″This incident does not pose any kind of reasonable threat to North America,″ said Dr. Neil E. Todreas, head of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Department of Nuclear Engineering.

″Based on what we know now, we are advising the public that there is no need to be concerned,″ said Bailus Walker, Massachusetts’ commissioner of public health. If excess radiation is detected, Walker said, he will require that dairy herds be fed stored grain and would restrict the use of home-grown vegetables.

Dr. William Hausler, director of the Hygenic Lab at the University of Iowa, said two radiation monitors at the university had been turned on.

″That’s all that we’ve done. We do this when there’s been atmospheric detonations, underground tests,″ Hausler said.

″I think this is only reasonable. We need baseline levels to compare it to if anything occurs in the next week or two.″

On Tuesday, New York Gov. Mario Cuomo ordered increased sampling of milk supplies - a precaution which officials in other states thought was unnecessary.

″We’ve not really discussed whether or not we need to do any milk sampling yet,″ said Mark Smith, chief of licensing and environmental surveillance in the Division of Radiation Control of the Arkansas Health Department. ″Probably what we’ll do is see if anything shows up in the air samples or not - it won’t show up in the milk until it showed up in the air samples.″

Porter said the course of a nuclear plume is always unpredictable, and the United States might get no fallout at all.

″There’s a lot of things that can happen with the winds up there, and it could just get dispersed,″ Porter said.

Although no state official was predicting any threat, Dayne Brown, chief of the radiation protection section of the North Carolina Department of Human Resources, said it was important to take precautions.

″No one feels comfortable,″ he said, ″when a bureaucrat sits down and says, ’we don’t expect any problems so we’re not going to do anything.‴

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