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Newspaper Details Radiation Exposure Incidents at Weapons Plant

July 5, 1989

DENVER (AP) _ Several Rocky Flats workers were exposed to high levels of radiation in seven incidents at the nuclear weapons plant from 1981 through 1987, a newspaper reported Wednesday.

″Unusual occurrence″ reports obtained by The Denver Post detailed incidents in which workers were injured because of their own negligence or inadequate safety measures at the plant, including radiation exposures that were not previously made public.

The newspaper based its story on 36 reports it obtained from DOE under the Freedom of Information Act. Most of the reports detail incidents that did not involve radioactive material.

One report cited by the Post described an accident where an electrician inhaled plutonium. Rockwell International Corp., which operates the plant for the Department of Energy, said the amount of plutonium in the worker’s lungs was 5.5 percent of Rockwell’s maximum permissible lung burden.

Many health officials say any measurable amount of plutonium inhaled into one’s lungs can lead to serious health problems and even death, the Post said.

FBI and Environmental Protection Agency agents are investigating allegations that hazardous waste was disposed of illegally at the plant.

The newspaper cited seven incidents involving radiation exposure that affected at least nine workers. In some cases the number of workers involved was not specified.

In a Feb. 15, 1984, report, Rockwell said an electrician who asked for a ″body count″ radiation test was found to have ″elevated″ levels of plutonium in his lungs, apparently after he repaired a pump without using respiratory protection.

Rockwell spokesman Ed Heintz said details on the electrician’s health are confidential. ″We don’t consider that level to be a serious problem,″ Heintz said. ″But any plutonium is obviously something you don’t want to get inside your system.″

Heintz did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment on the other six incidents detailed in the Post from the DOE report. They are:

-On April 3, 1985, two workers in Building 371 accidentally inhaled plutonium, but the incident report indicated there was ″little or no″ plutonium deposited in their lungs.

-In July 1985, body counts of workers in Building 779 after a release of radioactive contamination into a lab area showed some had inhaled radioactive materials.

-A month later, three workers were contaminated with plutonium in Rocky Flats’ main plutonium reprocessing center. They were successfully decontaminated, the report says.

-In December 1985, truck drivers and janitors were ″directly or indirectly handling radioactive material unknowingly and without precautions″ after a small amount of radioactive waste inadvertently got into non-radioactive trash headed for a landfill on the plant grounds.

Guards outside the area from which the trash was taken ignored radiation alarms that went off as the truck was about to leave.

-On Nov. 3, 1986, three workers in Building 771 were exposed to ″high levels of radiation″ from plutonium oxide that was released accidentally during an equipment failure. No contamination of their lungs was discovered, the report said.

-Radiation was released in Building 707 after an emergency electrical system failure Nov. 23, 1986. No one was in the area.

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