Tons of Uranium Was Released Into the Air

Feb. 8, 2000
The Paducah Gaseous Diffusion plant in Kentucky estimated that more than 132,000 pounds of uranium were released into the air between 1952 and 1990.

Uranium workers at the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion plant in Kentucky participated in dangerous experiments and were exposed to harmful levels of the radioactive element in the 1950s, according to The Courier-Journal. But what type of health hazards did the plant pose to the public over 38 years?

In a draft report by the Department of Energy (DOE), obtained by The Courier-Journal on Sunday, the plant estimated that more than 132,000 pounds of uranium (66 tons) were released into the air between 1952 and 1990.

DOE noted in its report that it could not determine how those amounts were calculated.

In fact, some employees told investigators they under-reported release amounts by as much as a factor of 5.

Vast amounts of uranium-contaminated smoke, steam and gas were emitted from stacks into the open air -- sometimes secretly, in what employees called "midnight negatives."

There was no monitoring of stack emissions until 1975.

According to one list the department found, there were 15 accidental releases to the atmosphere that each involved more than 50 pounds of uranium hexaflouride.

Another list revealed 69 "probable airborne releases," each involving more than 10 pounds of uranium.

"No evidence could be found that any of the accidental releases were analyzed using a meteorological model for assessing the acute dose to the public," the report says.

The Courier-Journal also reported that there have been some unusual releases of toxic gases.

Several current and former workers told investigators that blue flames 10 inches high have appeared on the surface of a classified landfill after heavy rain.

The report did not say what that might indicate.

Likewise, other radioactive materials would have been released into the atmosphere, but the investigators could find no numbers for such emissions.

Based on the fact that releases inside the process building were a constant problem, the report says " it is apparent that past estimates of public dose have a questionable level of accuracy and conservatism."

About the Author

EHS Today Staff

EHS Today's editorial staff includes:

Dave Blanchard, Editor-in-Chief: During his career Dave has led the editorial management of many of Endeavor Business Media's best-known brands, including IndustryWeekEHS Today, Material Handling & LogisticsLogistics Today, Supply Chain Technology News, and Business Finance. In addition, he serves as senior content director of the annual Safety Leadership Conference. With over 30 years of B2B media experience, Dave literally wrote the book on supply chain management, Supply Chain Management Best Practices (John Wiley & Sons, 2021), which has been translated into several languages and is currently in its third edition. He is a frequent speaker and moderator at major trade shows and conferences, and has won numerous awards for writing and editing. He is a voting member of the jury of the Logistics Hall of Fame, and is a graduate of Northern Illinois University.

Adrienne Selko, Senior Editor: In addition to her roles with EHS Today and the Safety Leadership Conference, Adrienne is also a senior editor at IndustryWeek and has written about many topics, with her current focus on workforce development strategies. She is also a senior editor at Material Handling & Logistics. Previously she was in corporate communications at a medical manufacturing company as well as a large regional bank. She is the author of Do I Have to Wear Garlic Around My Neck?, which made the Cleveland Plain Dealer's best sellers list.

Nicole Stempak, Managing Editor:  Nicole Stempak is managing editor of EHS Today and conference content manager of the Safety Leadership Conference.

Sponsored Recommendations

Free Webinar: ISO 45001 – A Commitment to Occupational Health, Safety & Personal Wellness

May 30, 2024
Secure a safer and more productive workplace using proven Management Systems ISO 45001 and ISO 45003.

ISO 45003 – Psychological Health and Safety at Work

May 30, 2024
ISO 45003 offers a comprehensive framework to expand your existing occupational health and safety program, helping you mitigate psychosocial risks and promote overall employee...

DH Pace, national door and dock provider, reduces TRIR and claims with EHS solution

May 29, 2024
Find out how DH Pace moved from paper/email/excel to an EHS platform, changing their culture. They reduced TRIR from 4.8 to 1.46 and improved their ability to bid on and win contracts...

Case Study: Improve TRIR from 4+ to 1 with EHS Solution and Safety Training

May 29, 2024
Safety training and EHS solutions improve TRIR for Complete Mechanical Services, leading to increased business. Moving incidents, training, and other EHS procedures into the digital...

Voice your opinion!

To join the conversation, and become an exclusive member of EHS Today, create an account today!