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Du Pont Admits Underreporting Waste Amount

October 18, 1988

AIKEN, S.C. (AP) _ Officials at the Savannah River plutonium plant said an ″oversight″ was responsible for underreporting of the amount of radioactive contaminant released into a creek, according to reports published today.

According to a Sept. 21 report by Du Pont, which operates the plant, a 375,000-gallon release on July 8 was contaminated by 17 millicuries of Cesium- 137, a waste byproduct known to cause cancer.

However, officials continued to collect data through mid-September, and those updated numbers weren’t in the report, The Augusta (Ga.) Chronicle and The Augusta Herald reported in today’s editions.

The Sept. 21 report, obtained by the newspapers last week, said the 17- millicuries figure was based on data collected only through July 22. On Monday, Du Pont officials increased the figure to 26 millicuries of Cesium- 137.

A millicurie is one-thousandth of a curie, the unit used to measure radioactivity.

The report of an unusual occurrence at the plant was prepared July 25 and revised Sept. 16. ″The revisions should, or could, have included the change,″ said plant spokesman Clif Webb. ″It was an oversight. The data was available but it was not used.″

The change, Webb said, did not make any difference in terms of public safety or health. The report had to be completed within three weeks of the accident, Webb said, adding it was later revised as additional information became available.

Poorly trained personnel and inadequate procedures were blamed for the water being released into Four Mile Creek, which flows into the Savannah River. No abnormal levels of the waste byproduct were detected in the river, according to Du Pont and South Carolina environmental officials.

The shutdown since April of all three reactors at the plant for maintenance and testing has raised safety questions about the plant, which Du Pont operates for the Department of Energy.

In another incident, about 100 plant employees were evacuated Monday afternoon when a fan malfunctioned in the plutonium-processing area, but officials said the workers were not endangered.

The fan was restarted about 30 minutes later, said Webb. The cause of the equipment failure was under investigation. A backup fan normally would have been activated, but the second unit was out of service for routine maintenance, he said.

The exhaust fan is used to circulate fresh air through the building and to remove any releases of contamination from the building.

The amount of contamination would depend on how much plutonium was being processed when such an accident occurred. Officials will not discuss specifics on plutonium production.

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