EWU plans inquiry on uranium risk
Eastern Washington University is looking to hire consultants to help deal with potential health and safety issues arising from the recent discovery of uranium ore left unprotected in a storage room, possibly for years.
The school wants help in determining how much exposure about a dozen university workers underwent, as well as any cleanup and disposal procedures needed, said Peter Batsakis, EWU’s manager of environmental health and safety. He said the goal is to have the matter settled by the start of classes Sept. 20.
The rocks were discovered in drawers in a storage room in the science building; four workers spent quite a bit of time in the room, and about eight others had more incidental, infrequent contact with the room, Batsakis said.
EWU has surveyed the workers on the amount of time they spent in or near the storage room and has secured the rocks in radiation-safe storage.
“The next step is for us to get some professionals in here to review what we’ve done and maybe give us some guidance in terms of disposal,” Batsakis said.
No one has come forward with complaints of ailments that sound related to radiation exposure, he said.
Uranium is considered weakly radioactive and isn’t among the materials of greatest concern for radiation exposure, such as plutonium. The government does not regulate its handling, Batsakis said.
However, he has declined to release radiation levels associated with the rocks until officials have a better idea about the frequency and intensity of exposure workers may have had.
The rocks were discovered during a sweep of the campus two weeks ago that Batsakis, who is new on the job, undertook to check out any health or safety issues. It’s not known where they came from or how long they had been there, but it seemed likely they had been there for years, he said.
Batsakis said he’s been talking to other university and even high school officials in recent weeks, wondering whether they’ve had similar problems. Uranium ore does occur naturally and with some frequency, after all, and geography departments usually have plenty of rocks lying around.
“They say, ‘It’s something we really haven’t thought about. Maybe we need to go look at our department,’ ” he said.