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Low-level radiation samples at Porter sent to lab via FedEx

Samples collected under state guidelines for radiological testing at CWM Chemical Services have been sent to laboratories via FedEx, a consultant said during an informational session at the landfill Thursday.

Initial radiation levels of samples taken on-site indicated such low-level readings that they could be sent to out-of-state labs through common delivery methods, said Andrew "Hunt" Thornhill of URS Corp.

"There are no restrictions for shipping," said Thornhill, a former nuclear engineer with the U.S. Navy.

During Thursday's session, Thornhill displayed a few pieces of material found over the past several weeks during small excavation projects on site. He held several dark golf ball-sized rocks double-bagged inside two clear Ziploc pouches to be sent for testing.

The rocks didn't need to be held in an especially protective container. The plastic bags were enough, consultants told the public.

That summed up the message aired during a discussion held at CWM, the Northeast's only active commercial hazardous waste landfill -- radiation is all around us, and the levels that have been found at CWM don't constitute a public health hazard despite regular concerns raised by some members of the public.

In August, the state Department of Environmental Conservation approved a series of radiological testing plans for the CWM site that were several years in development.

Portions of the landfill site had been used to dispose of radiological waste related to experiments that were part of the Manhattan Project, the country's development of atomic weapons.

State health officials banned disturbance of soil on the site in 1972, an order not enforced for decades on any landfill operators there.

Portions of the site are also the subject of an ongoing U.S. Army Corps of Engineers investigation of contamination.

Seven area residents, including one member of the CWM Community Advisory Committee, attended Thursday's session. Three members of the media, three CWM employees and three hired consultants were also present.

The turnout disappointed CWM spokeswoman Lori Caso.

Some people have a lot of concerns about the site, and the concerns receive a lot of attention from the media, Caso said.

The company opens up the site to the public so people can come and learn about the activities that happen there, she said.

Michael T. Ryan, a certified health physicist, gave about a 60-minute presentation about radiation. Ryan was named to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's Advisory Committee on Nuclear Waste in 2002.

He pointed to sources of radiation the average U.S. citizen is exposed to everyday, including potassium, which is found in bananas, and other radiation that can be found inside the human body.

Everyday consumer products like smoke detectors, pacemakers, certain types of ceramic tiles and kitty litter all contain small amounts of radiation, Ryan said.

Radiation exposure also comes from certain medical tests and procedures, from the ground as well as from beyond the Earth's atmosphere.

Some members of the Community Advisory Committee criticized the newly implemented standards during their meeting last month.

They said the requirements fail to adequately investigate for plutonium and exclude areas that drain into the Great Lakes.

Company officials said they have undertaken the testing in order to make a positive effort to characterize any contamination.


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