Radiation Found at Fire Scene
|Last Update: 10/27 9:46 pm|
Firefighters are trained to deal with fire, smoke, and all kinds of hazards. But it’s not everyday they run across radioactive material. That’s what happened around 9:00 this morning at La Farge Cement in the 2600 block of North 145th East Avenue. There was little damage, as Catoosa and Tulsa firefighters quickly put the fire out.
But as FOX 23’s Douglas Clark found out, concerns among neighbors are still smouldering.
The chemical is called Cesium 137, a radioactive element. Experts say the good news is that it is not overly dangerous if properly contained. But people who live near this plant want reassurance that they’re not living next to a potential danger.
A preliminary investigation revealed that the fire likely started as a result of the mechanical failure of a conveyor belt. That conveyor belt we’re told is just one foot away from where radioactive chemical Cesium 137 is stored.
“It concerns me if something leaked or if there was some danger, I’d want to know about it,” says neighbor Jeanne West.
So how dangerous is Cesium to people who live close by?
“The dangers with Cesium are probably not that dramatic,” says TU Chemistry Professor Bob Howard. He says it’s usually stored in solid-form as salt. That keeps it fairly tame. But if firefighters had gotten it wet while putting out the fire, it could have seeped through cracks in the floor and then into the soil.
“Water goes where it wants to go and a solid you can sweep up and contain pretty well,” says Howard.
Professor Howard also says Cesium 137 can also give off X-rays, a form of radiation. Plant officials say in this case, the Cesium is stored in lead casing, which protects plant workers from radiation and keeps it fire-proof.
“Had the fire even reached this source, which it did not, these devices have several safeguards built into them that prevent firefighters from being exposed,” says plant manager Jim Bachmann.
Plant officials say Cesium is used in the process of monitoring the conveyer system. While anything that is radioactive may sound scary, experts say in this case, neither firefighters nor the public was ever in danger.
“It was in a simple form, easy to contain, sounds like it was a small incident, so it shouldn’t be a problem,” says Professor Howard.
Plant officials sent the nuclear safety supervisor to the area with a radiological measurement device. Inspection of the device that uses the Cesium did not reveal any damage. Tulsa fire hazmat crews assisted in the evaluation of the situation and says all radiation levels were within normal limits.
The Mine Safety and Health Administration also responded to the scene and confirmed plant personnel handled the situation safely and appropriately.