Irradiation Company Founder Accused Of Safety Violations
NEWARK, N.J. (AP) _ The founder and ex-president of an irradiation company and a leading spokesman for the food preservation process was indicted Friday on charges he ordered workers to bypass safety precautions and lied about it to federal regulators.
The company, Radiation Technology Inc. of Morris Plains, Wednesday pleaded guilty to related charges involving violations at its Rockaway plant. RTI irradiates medical products and spices.
Company founder Martin Welt had planned to plead guilty to unspecified charges in the case the same day but withdrew from a plea agreement at the last moment, said prosecutors in the U.S. attorney’s Newark office.
Welt, 55, of Denville, withdrew as RTI’s president in mid-1986 after the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission temporarily suspended the company’s license for the safety violations.
He has been one of the process’s most vocal supporters, touting it in the media and making a promotional trip to China last year. Welt also was a physicist with the NRC’s predecessor, the Atomic Energy Commission.
Also named in the 11-count indictment was William Jouris, 48, of Littleton, Mass. In 1985, Jouris was a resident nuclear engineer and operations manager at the Rockaway plant, the indictment said.
Welt and Jouris were charged with conspiracy to defraud the NRC, making false statements and violating the Atomic Energy Act. Welt also was charged with obstruction of justice.
Welt’s attorney, Theodore H. Wells, said he had not seen the indictment and could not comment. He also refused to comment on the apparent breakdown in plea negotiations. Welt did not return a message left on his answering machine.
Jouris could not be reached for comment. He did not return a message left on his home answering machine. Attorney Robert Fettweis, who prosecutors said has represented Jouris, did not return a message left at his office.
The indictment said the defendants bypassed or told others to bypass ″conveyor door safety interlocks″ at the Rockaway plant. The devices automatically lower the radiation source, in this case Cobalt 60, into a protective pool when a human or an object other than the product to be irradiated enters the area.
Welt ordered the locks routinely bypassed starting in April 1984, the indictment said, and sought to impede an NRC investigation into the matter.
The criminal investigation grew out of the NRC probe, which led to a pair of temporary license suspensions in 1986.
Welt called a meeting and threatened RTI workers with dismissal if they didn’t lie to investigators, the indictment said.
Jouris was accused of removing a radiation safety monitor that prevented workers from being inadvertently exposed to radiation.
The company has said no worker or member of the public was harmed because of the violations.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Jacqueline C. Wolff said authorities know of at least one worker who entered the cell area while products were being irradiated, but said the worker suffered no immediate injury.
She said it was difficult to measure the health affects of the safety violations because the results of low-level dosages don’t appear until years later.
She said the safety interlocks frequently malfunctioned, preventing the irradiation process from going on, so company officials bypassed them to keep operating.
The indictment said Jouris and Welt lied to the NRC about the installation of a new conveyor door safety system at the Rockaway plant, telling regulators during a routine inspection that it had tested a new system in tandem with the old system for two weeks before dismantling the old one.
Instead, the indictment charged, the old system was taken apart and the new one installed without testing.
Welt faces up to 37 years in prison if convicted and Jouris faces 22 years.
RTI also has operations in Salem, N.J., West Memphis, Ark., and Haw River, N.C.