[ RadSafe ] Authorities want to survey city radiation

Yoss, Robert ryoss at mcw.edu
Wed Mar 21 15:05:03 CDT 2007

Authorities want to survey city radiation

By Mimi Hall, USA TODAY

Homeland Security and Energy department leaders urge cities vulnerable
to terrorism to undergo an inventory of all radioactive material within
city limits, so authorities can detect "dirty bombs" terrorists might

Maps of each city would be created by a Department of Energy team that
uses helicopters, small planes and ultrasensitive radiation detectors to
pinpoint areas where radioactive materials are legitimately stored, such
as hospitals and laboratories.

With a baseline survey in hand, authorities could quickly check for new
sources of radiation if intelligence suggests a terrorist is assembling
a dirty bomb, in which radioactive material is mixed with explosives.
Any new radiation blips on the survey could be flagged as potential
rogues and investigated.

Baseline surveys also could be used to guide cleanup crews to heavily
radiated areas if a bomb is set off.

The effort to convince dozens of cities to use federal anti-terrorism
grant money to pay for the surveys will begin Thursday when officials
from Homeland Security and the Energy Department's National Nuclear
Security Administration (NNSA) travel to Illinois to meet with emergency
responders from Chicago and Springfield.

"We think this is a good idea" for all high-risk cities, says Vayl
Oxford, head of Homeland Security's Domestic Nuclear Detection Office.

So far, only New York City has decided to pay for a survey. That survey,
done in 2005, cost $800,000.

Last September, the Government Accountability Office took Homeland
Security and Energy to task for failing to take responsibility for
letting other cities know the surveys could be done.

"There are significant benefits to conducting aerial background
radiation surveys of U.S. cities," the GAO reported to Congress.

The report found that neither Energy, which has the technical expertise
and equipment to conduct the surveys, nor Homeland Security, which is
responsible for protecting against terrorist attacks, accepted
responsibility for getting the job done. Officials from both departments
say they are now working together on the project.

Debbie Wilber, director of the NNSA's Office of Emergency Response, says
the survey team has helicopters and small planes outfitted with

The team also uses handheld and backpack detectors and other mobile
detectors that can be placed in cars and vans. The detectors are so
sensitive that they can pick up small traces of radioactive iodine
ingested by people being treated for thyroid cancer. Such minute traces
can be filtered out if necessary.

There are potential public health benefits to the surveys as well. In
2005, the New York survey found 80 unexpected "hot spots."

Most posed no danger, but a public park on Staten Island that once was
the site of an industrial plant had soil contaminated with "large
quantities of radium," the GAO reported. The New York Police Department
closed the park.
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Bob Yoss
Radiation Safety Coordinator

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