Radioactive readings at local park has people aglow with questions

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SEATTLE — Radioactive materials at a local park have some people on edge. Magnuson Park has what’s called a low-level radiological contamination on parts of the ground and in a couple of buildings. One of those buildings houses an indoor soccer camp for young children.

ski_0843_01Back in the 1930s, the park was a Naval Air Station and it used radioactive materials to touch up aircraft navigation gauges.

But the news raises questions as to why it took the City of Seattle four years to alert the public.

“The dog parks are great, the athletic stuff is great, but obviously there are issues,” said park goer Sam Durham.

Durham’s son plays indoor soccer at the Arena Sports building which was once an aircraft hangar. The back side of the hangar is fenced off, and its windows are sealed with plywood, keeping the public out.

The buildings were once home to Naval Station Puget Sound Sand Point. Military workers used radioactive radium-226 which made aviation equipment glow in the dark.

The City of Seattle got the property in 2009 and found documents detailing “radium rooms” in two separate buildings.

Seattle City Parks said that signs, fences, and locked doors keep the public out of any contaminated areas. But the city was never required to alert the public, and it said the low level of contamination never required a lot of public process.

“I just want to believe that we’re all going to be okay since clearly our exposure level is done,” said park goer Erin Thakkar. “We’re here almost on a daily basis living so close.”

Thakkar also takes her two kids to the Arena Sports building, and plans to keep her kids away from the secured areas.

“Certainly I won’t be taking my kids on a little walk over by the area,” said Thakkar.

The United States Navy is responsible for the clean-up at the park. They’ll spend $9Million dollars and work starts in June removing what it calls significant amounts of building materials and contaminated soil.

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    A Navy memorandum entitled "ACTION MEMORANDUM: Time-Critical Removal Action Former Naval Station Puget Sound Seattle, Washington" and dated May 24, 2013, states: "Radium-226 (Ra-226), cesium-137 (Cs-137), and/or strontium-90 (Sr-90) contamination was found during the investigation of the south shed of Building 27, Building 2, associated Building 27 catch basins, and outside of Buildings 2, 12, and 27" (p. 1-1). I haven't seen the cesium-137 and strontium-90 findings discussed by the local media. These two radionuclides are not in the decay chain of the radium-226; they are fission products of uranium-235. So, where did they come from? Are they residues of atmospheric nuclear weapons testing, fallout from Fukushima, radioactive waste storage, or what? What other radionuclides are in Magnuson Park undetected? The Navy memo also indicates that there is significant uncertainty about the extent of the contamination. Thus, the "Proposed Action" includes additional "associated radiological surveys" (times 4), "additional characterization", and "additional assessments" (p. 5-1).

    in 2006, the National Academy of Science published a report, "Health Risks from Exposure to Low Levels of Ionizing Radiation: BEIR VII Phase 2," concluding that even a single low dose of ionizing radiation poses health risks–there is no threshehold below wich exposure to ionizing radiation is risk-free. Radium-226 is a radioactive element with a half-life of around 1,600 years. It is primarily an alpha particle emitter but also emits gamma rays as it decays. Gamma rays, a form of ionizing radiation, easily pass through clothing and skin. Dense or massive shielding, e.g. lead plates, is typically used to block gamma rays. Radium-226 also releases radon gas as it decays. Radon emits alpha and beta particles, which are far less penetrating than gamma rays, but it is in some ways more dangerous than radium-226 because, as a gas, it can be inhaled. Also, because of the mass of alpha particles they are 15 to 20 times more strongly ionizing than gamma rays of a similar energy level. Cesium-137 is a beta and gamma emitter with a comparatively short half-life (30.2 years) that is soluble in water. Strontium-90 is a beta emitter with a half-life of 28.9 years. Beta radiation can penetrate clothing, skin, and very thin layers of light metals. As beta emitters, Cesium-137 and Strontium-90 are also secondary emitters of X-rays–another form of highly penetrating, ionizing radiation–via Bremsstrahlung radiation.

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