And now:Ish <[EMAIL PROTECTED]> writes:

sent by Dawn..thanks..:)

Hot Metal May Find Its Way To Your Dinner Table

  The Department of Energy has a problem: what to do with millions of tons 
of radioactive metal. So the DOE has come up with an ingenious plan to 
dispose of its troublesome tons of nickel, copper, steel, and aluminum. It 
wants to let scrap companies collect the metal, try to take the 
radioactivity out, and sell the metal to foundries, which would in turn 
sell it to manufacturers who could use it for everyday household products: 
pots, pans, forks, spoons, even your eyeglasses.

You may not know this, but the government already permits some companies, 
under special licenses, to buy, reprocess, and sell radioactive metal: 
7,500 tons in 1996, by one industry estimate. But the amount of this 
reprocessing could increase drastically if the DOE, the Nuclear Regulatory 
Commission (NRC), and the burgeoning radioactive metal processing industry 
get their way. They are pressing for a new, lax standard that would do away 
with the special permits and allow companies to buy and resell millions of 
tons of low-level radioactive metal.

If the rules change, the metal companies could increase their output a 
hundredfold. And the standard the companies seek could cause nearly 100,000 
cancer fatalities in the United States, by the NRC's own estimate.

''We're looking at an exponential increase,'' says Diane D'Arrigo, a staff 
member at the Nuclear Information and Resource Service, which is fighting 
the push to recycle radioactive metal. ''Think about the metal you come 
into contact with every day. Your IUD, and your bracelets, your silverware, 
the zipper on your crotch, the coins in your pocket, frying pans, belt 
buckles, that chair you're sitting on, the batteries that are in your car 
and motorbike, the batteries in your computer.''

  A June 30 memorandum from John Hoyle, NRC Secretary, announces the 
Commission's decision to establish a new, legal dose of radiation for 
metals released from nuclear facilities.

''This level should be based on realistic scenarios of health effects from 
low doses that still allows quantities of materials to be released,'' says 
the letter. ''The rule should be comprehensive and apply to all metals, 
equipment, and materials, including soil.''

  Metal companies want that standard to be in the vicinity of 10 millirems 
per year. A millirem is a unit of measure, based on the standard man, that 
estimates the damage radiation does to human tissue. The NRC studied the 
health effects of such a standard back in 1990. It found: ''A radiation 
dose of 10 mrem per year . . . received continuously over a lifetime 
corresponds to a risk of about 4 chances in 10,000'' of fatal cancer. That 
translates to 92,755 additional cancer deaths in the United States alone.

  Many scientists argue that any release of hot metals into the product 
stream is a serious health hazard.

  John Gofman is a former associate director of Livermore National 
Laboratory, one of the scientists who worked on the atomic bomb, and 
co-discoverer of uranium-233. ''There is no safe dose or dose rate below 
which dangers disappear. No threshold-dose,'' said Gofman. ''Serious, 
lethal effects from minimal radiation doses are not 'hypothetical,' 'just 
theoretical,' or 'imaginary.' They are real.''

  Karl Morgan, known as the father of health physics, shudders at the idea 
of more and more radioactive metal entering people's homes. He is 
particularly worried about dental fillings. ''You certainly don't want 
people going around with radioactive teeth,'' he says.

  Some of the most dangerous radioactivity around the home, says Morgan, 
will be the metals people unintentionally ingest. ''Some of these find 
their way directly into the human body, especially copper and iron, 
stainless steel [from] knives and forks,'' he says. ''It doesn't help any 
cell in the human body if you send an alpha particle through it.''

  Richard Clapp, associate professor in the department of environmental 
health at the Boston University Schools of Public Health, says you may soon 
need to fear household products you have most contact with: ''If you're 
sitting on it, or if it's part of your desk, or in the frame of your 
bed--where you have constant exposure and for several hours,'' you will be 
in most danger.

  Clapp, who published a study on the increases in leukemia and thyroid 
cancers associated with low-level radiation exposure among people living 
near a Massachusetts nuclear power plant, says radioactive metal recycling 
will raise overall radiation levels. ''Who in their right mind would want 
to do that?'' he asks. ''This is the legacy of an industry gone mad.''

  It's early August, and I'm attending the ''Beneficial Reuse'' conference 
of the Association of Radioactive Metal Recyclers, in Knoxville, Tennessee.

  ''We were not always called Beneficial Reuse,'' says Val Loiselle, 
chairman of the association, during his opening speech. ''In our first 
year, we were called the Radioactive Scrap Metal Conference.''

  This is the sixth annual gathering of radioactive metal recyclers. There 
is a special session for those interested in recycling depleted uranium and 
a presentation on recycling radioactive concrete.

  ''I got my start in the commercial nuclear power business,'' says Leo 
Hill, the general manager and president of GTS Duratek. ''Nowadays, when I 
go by a scrap yard or an automobile wrecking place, I think, 'This stuff is 
beautiful.' I'm in the garbage business, and I love it.''

  ''I was born a Hindu, and a central feature of the Hindu religion is 
reincarnation,'' says Shankar Menon of Menon Consulting in Sweden. ''And 
being trained as an engineer, it's just a short step to the recycling of 
metals. I'm actually thinking of the soul in them.''

  But this conference is not so much about the soul of the metal as its 
sale. ''In the scrap business, there's probably about $3 billion in the 
region, if you count Ohio, Kentucky, and Indiana,'' says Frederick Gardner, 
who is in charge of business development for Decontamination and Recovery 
Services of Oak Ridge, Tennessee. ''The cheaper we can handle this stuff, 
the bigger business this will be.''

  Still, there are a few kinks to be worked out in the plan to reprocess 
radioactive scrap: for instance, public opinion. ''What's it going to take 
to get the public swung around to say, 'OK, I don't like it, but I guess 
you've proven it's safe'?'' asks Gardner, who is making a presentation. He 
answers his own question with an overhead that reads, The Main Point: It 
All Starts With the Salesman.

  ''We can tackle the public on the notion that radioactivity is an 
effluent, not a waste,'' says Loiselle, comparing radioactivity to car 
exhaust. ''This industry has a right to effluence just like any other 
industry. And it cannot be zero. No industry has zero effluence.''

  Peter Yerace, waste coordinator for the Department of Energy's Fernald 
project in Ohio, displays an overhead slide: Public Perception Problems: 
Fears of Radiation, Suspicion of DOE.

  Fernald has ''lots of copper,'' 120 tons of ingots, says Yerace. He 
proposed releasing copper that was slightly contaminated with uranium. 
''When I went in front of the public, I got the crap beat out of me,'' he 
says. People asked, ''Are my kid's braces going to be made out of that 
copper?'' Yerace told them the metal could enter consumer products. ''I 
went as far as a copper IUD. That's what it's made of,'' he says. But he 
tried to reassure them the metal would be of such low levels of 
radioactivity that it wouldn't be dangerous.

   But while CO-2 sterilizes some surfaces, not all the ''hot spots'' on 
radioactive metal can be scrubbed off. This is particularly true for metals 
that are radioactive inside and out, which is one reason why companies 
cannot legally reprocess them. The DOE and the private firms want to be 
able to recycle these ''volumetrically contaminated'' metals, too.

  Loiselle explains that the government is getting away from measuring 
exactly how much radiation it will allow in any given product. Instead, it 
is making more general target assessments based on risk and is considering 
setting an allowable dose standard. Many industry members advocate a 
standard that would allow for the release of all metal estimated to give 
off doses of radiation at 10 to 15 millirems per year. ''The dose shouldn't 
be ridiculously low,'' Loiselle says. ''We've gone too far toward making it 
zero. That's really not fair to the industry. Nothing is zero. Pick a 
number, and you'll have a lot of friends here. We'd rather be regulated at 
10 millirems or thereabouts.''

  As Loiselle explains it, the public has no idea what doses it encounters 
in household products and car parts because the current release standards 
for those who get special permits are set so close to zero that the 
radiation is not measurable. ''The public health is better served by 
something measurable,'' he says. ''In a sense, that means a looser or a 
less stringent standard. Wouldn't it be better if it were something we 
could measure?''

  Not all industry people agree with that. Steven Stansberry, business 
development manager for Manufacturing Sciences Corporation, doesn't buy the 
argument that the public needs a measurable standard. ''Personally, I'm not 
an advocate against it because I work in the industry, and it doesn't scare 
me,'' he tells me at his plant in Oak Ridge. ''But raising it just so you 
know it's out there in the public seems a little backwards. If you can't 
measure it, at the worst case it's minimal. At the best case, it's not 
there,'' he says. ''If it's dose-based, you know it's there all the time.''

  Some scientists argue that exposure to continual low-dose radiation is 
potentially more dangerous than a one-time high-level dose. ''The cancer 
curve rises more steeply at low doses than high doses,'' says Steve Wing, 
an epidemiologist at the University of North Carolina­Chapel Hill.

                                             ILLUSTRATION ©1998 RICHARD

  In the gravel lot outside U.S. Ecology in Oak Ridge, I am looking at 
drums labeled radioactive and sludge and metal boxes (called B-25s or 
Sea-Lands) identified by millirem dose rates--.4 mr/hr, .8 mr/hr, 2 mr/hr, 
5 mr/hr. ''This is not a glamorous industry,'' says Tom Gilman, the 
company's government accounts manager. In addition to handling low-level 
radioactive wastes, says Gilman, U.S. Ecology recycles metals contaminated 
with low-level radioactivity. Most come from commercial sites, but he says 
some are from the DOE.

Companies pay U.S. Ecology to remove the radioactive metal from their 
property. If the metal is not highly radioactive and is contaminated only 
on the surface, the plant scrubs it, then sells it as clean scrap. From 
there, the metal travels to a steel mill and enters the consumer market. 
U.S. Ecology is ''turning waste into assets,'' says Gilman.

But Gilman is careful to say the assets his company is recycling into the 
metal stream aren't completely clean. '''Acceptable' levels is the word to 
use,'' he explains. ''There's always going to be some level of radioactivity.''

We enter what Gilman calls the survey building. Here, he says, workers 
search bags with a Geiger counter to find hot pieces of trash.

''So the bags could have radioactive stuff in them?'' I ask.

  ''Anything in this room could have radioactive stuff in it,'' says
Gilman. ''Except us.'' He laughs.

  We leave the building. Nearby, sits a chirping Geiger counter. From the 
pine woods, comes the long drone of locusts. ''This is the year for them,'' 
says Gilman.

In the next building, we pause near a large pile of bent and perforated 
radioactive metal beams. ''This is structural steel,'' says Gilman. 
''They're going to blast this, cutting out the hot spots to make new 
products to keep America great.'' Gilman points toward my notebook, 
gesturing with each word. ''Write that,'' he says. ''To keep America great.''

  Early in the 1980s, gold jewelry in Buffalo, New York, was a hot item. 
When a local television station offered to survey gold jewelry, it turned 
up three radioactive pieces in the first two days. ''As a result of this 
finding, the New York State Health Department began a comprehensive 
campaign in 1981 to find radioactive, contaminated jewelry,'' reported the 
journal Health Physics in 1986. ''More than 160,000 pieces were surveyed, 
and, of these, about 170 pieces turned out to be radioactive--mostly from 
western New York and nearby Pennsylvania.'' News accounts from the early 
eighties reported that at least fourteen people had developed finger cancer 
and several people had suffered amputations of their fingers and even parts 
of their hands as a result of the hot jewelry.

  The reports alleged that the radioactive gold came from the state-owned 
Roswell Park Institute, a center for cancer research and treatment. The 
rings contained small amounts of radon that had originally been used to 
treat tumors. Most of the jewelry dated from the 1940s.

Two attempts to sue the state of New York over the occurrence--one by a 
woman whose husband died after skin cancer metastasized throughout his 
body, another by a woman whose finger had to be amputated--failed. 
According to a May 14, 1983, A.P. report, the judge in one of the cases 
''ruled that the clock on the statute of limitations begins running at the 
time of injury.'' The court also ruled that Roswell Park could not be held 
responsible because it was ''merely a hypothesis'' that the gold had come 
from there.

The hot gold rings--and the cancer associated with them--may be a sign of 
things to come.

While radioactive metal reprocessing may pose health threats to consumers, 
it's the scrap metal workers and foundry workers who are likely to receive 
the most exposure.

A 1987 NRC bulletin describes tiny, extremely hot particles less than one 
millimeter in any direction (called radioactive fleas) that can cause 
serious damage to people who accidentally touch them. Such minute but 
extremely radioactive bits of metal could easily hide away in loads of 
otherwise low-level metal.

Michael Wright, director of health, safety, and environment for the United 
Steelworkers of America, claims there is also serious danger to workers 
from low-level radioactivity in steel. ''You can't inhale a piece of 
steel,'' says Wright. ''But if you melt it, there's a substantial risk of 
breathing it in. That's orders of magnitude more dangerous.''

Ordinary precautions like wearing respirators won't be enough to protect 
workers, says Wright. ''There isn't anything that protects people.''

In addition to cancers, ''these exposures also can cause neurological 
problems,'' says Jackie Kittrell, a lawyer with the American Environmental 
Health Studies Project, an Oak Ridge organization that represents workers 
who have suffered heavy metal exposure and radiation poisoning while on the 
job. Radioactive metal exposure can ''interfere with immune system 
function,'' she says.

Even the Steel Manufacturers Association takes a dim view of radioactive 
metal. Christina Bechak, vice president of the association, expresses a 
concern that radiation will accumulate on the machines used for shredding 
and smelting the metal. ''Scrap metal is valuable, but we don't want 
radioactive scrap,'' she says. Nor is she happy with the proposal to let 
companies release this metal freely. ''The detectors [in the factories] are 
set very sensitive,'' says Bechak. She fears that extremely hot scrap will 
be able to enter the plants in loads of low-level metal, since the 
detectors do not distinguish between levels of radioactivity. If the 
detectors sound an alarm for every shipment of low-level metal, the workers 
may be tempted to ignore the warning or to set the detectors to a less 
sensitive, and potentially more dangerous, reading. ''All the radioactive 
metal is going to set off the detectors,'' she says.

The DOE is so eager to get radioactive metal off its hands that it has 
hired an arm of British Nuclear Fuels, called BNFL, to do the job. The 
British-government-owned company has already started work at several large 
buildings on the K-25 site in Oak Ridge that were originally used to 
manufacture highly enriched uranium for nuclear warheads as part of the 
Manhattan Project. The $238 million contract stipulates that the company 
may recycle for profit all the metals it recovers, including a large amount 
of formerly classified nickel.

When British Nuclear Fuels released 7,000 metric tons of metal contaminated 
with low-level radioactivity for recycling into consumer goods in Britain 
earlier this year, it caused an uproar. A spokesman for British Nuclear 
Fuels explained his philosophy to the London paper The Independent. ''It's 
recycling,'' he said. ''If you have a cup of coffee, you don't throw the 
cup away, you reuse it.''

BNFL's U.S. project has run into a roadblock. A coalition of environmental 
groups and unions--including the Natural Re-sources Defense Council, the 
Nuclear Information and Resource Service, and the Oil, Chemical, and Atomic 
Workers Union--recently won a suit that claimed the Department of Energy 
had neglected to consider the environmental impact of all the metal it 
planned to release for recycling. The court ordered the DOE to perform an 
Environmental Impact Statement. The Department of Energy acknowledges 
100,000 pounds of metal have been shipped out already, but this metal, the 
DOE claims, is clean.

Meanwhile, at the K-25 site in Oak Ridge, there have been problems this 
summer that have nothing to do with BNFL. The DOE accidentally released two 
hot metal items and claimed they had been thoroughly checked for radiation 
contamination. In both cases, the state of Tennessee caught the hot 
releases and returned them to the DOE. ''Unfortunately or fortunately, 
however you look at it, the only pieces of metal the state looked at were 
the ones found to be radioactive,'' says John Owsley, assistant director of 
the DOE's oversight division.

''In years past, a lot of material went out of these facilities that 
wouldn't meet commercial-world standards,'' says Michael Mobley, the 
director of the division of radiological health in the Tennessee Department 
of Energy and Conservation. And the cavalier attitude at the DOE is no 
help, he says. ''There's been some issue about this: 'Well, if we miss one 
or two spots it's no big deal because the standard is so strict.' If every 
once in a while stuff is going out that's hotter than standard, how much is 
going out that's hotter than standard? Their survey processes are just 
going to evolve into nothing.''

Reply via email to