13 workers have been found to have internal exposure to americium 241 by inhalation after their lab tests came back. DOE did not mention this was ongoing at the public meeting two days ago while they insisted there was no risk from the release. This letter today from the WIPP site admits more workers could be at risk and is offering those who were on site the testing program. Follow up samples will help determine the full extent of their exposures. DOE did not give any actual readings for these positive exposure cases.
From the CDC, Americium is hardly a benign substance:
“The radiation from americium is the primary cause of adverse health effects from absorbed americium. Upon entering the body by any route of exposure, americium moves relatively rapidly through the body and is deposited on the surfaces of the bones where it remains for a long time. As americium undergoes radioactive decay in the bone, alpha particles collide with nearby cell matter and give all of their energy to this cell matter. The gamma rays released by decaying americium can travel much farther before hitting cellular material, and many of these gamma rays leave the body without hitting or damaging any cell matter. The dose from this alpha and gamma radiation can cause changes in the genetic material of these cells that could result in health effects such as bone cancers. Exposure to extremely high levels of americium, as has been reported in some animal studies, has resulted in damage to organs such as the lungs, liver, kidneys, and thyroid. It is rare, however, that a person would be exposed to amounts of americium large enough to cause harmful effects in these organs.”
image credit | KDAT
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