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Environment

NIST Workers Exposed To Plutonium

July 7, 2008 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 86, ISSUE 27

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Took Only A Spark

Urinalysis using α-particle spectroscopy confirms that a small number of NIST employees have been exposed to plutonium. Employees were exposed on June 9 when a vial containing approximately 250 mg of powdered plutonium was found to be cracked in a lab at NIST's facility in Boulder, Colo. NIST was using the plutonium sample for the development of improved radiation detectors. To date, NIST confirms that it is testing 29 employees for internal plutonium exposure. Full test results are expected within four weeks and will include those from thermal ionization mass spectrometry. Plutonium contamination from the incident has been detected in various locations in two different NIST buildings, including a sink used for cleanup. NIST estimates that no more than 60 mg of plutonium could have been lost down the sink that drains into the city of Boulder's sanitation system. The amount of discharged plutonium is below federal and state safety limits; NIST is consulting closely with local wastewater officials.

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