"The initial site review conducted by the federal government overlooked the Q-11 silos as a source of radon emissions," says Hornung, a professor of environmental health at UC and director of the biostatistics and data core at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center. "This second source of radon dominates the total radon exposure from both sources during the period of 1952 to 1958 for workers near the Q-11 silos. Our study revealed that a small number of Fernald workers' cumulative radon exposures were in the range of underground uranium miners."
"When the plant was in operation, employees wore badges to measure gamma radiation exposurebut not alpha radiation sources like radon," he adds.
According to company records, 7,143 people worked at the uranium processing plant between 1952 and the plant's closing in 1989.
Uranium is a heavy metal that is essential for operation of electricity-producing nuclear reactors around the world. The metal can be removed from ore through a chemical separation process that leaves a soupy mixture of liquid and chemical byproducts known as "raffinate." That raffinate was stored in the K-65 silos.
"Uranium raffinate has high levels of radium and radon decay products," explains Pinney, "and for more than 30 years the K-65 silos emitted radon gas into the plant's atmosphere. The gas is odorless and colorless, so the workers never knew they were breathing it."
According to the National Academy of Sciences, radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States. The substance, which can be dispersed in the form of gas through air or water, genetically alters cells in the lung's lining and can greatly increase a person's risk for lun
|Contact: Amanda Harper|
University of Cincinnati