Conservation DistList Archives [Date] [Subject] [Author] [SEARCH]

Subject: Radioactive contamination of records

Radioactive contamination of records

From: Doug Nishimura <dwnpph>
Date: Sunday, November 7, 1993
I have a feeling that decontamination of paper products is going to be
potentially difficult.  Having grown up in nuclear research town and
having spent a short time working with R&IS (Radiation and Industrial
Safety) I can tell you that in general, if it can't be scrubbed clean
with water or safely encapsulated in shielding material, generally
things have to be disposed of in a low-level disposal site  (effectively
buried.) (I don't claim to be an expert by the way.)  From the
description of the vial contents, I suspect that the substance was a
uranium salt (which normally decays by alpha emission.)  Alpha
particles are fortunately not very penetrating.  They can't go through
skin and are even blocked by a sheet of paper.  (Beta radiation on the
other hand would require a piece of wood to block to shield.)  The
decontamination unit was part of R&IS.

All lab equipment, rooms, clothing and people that (who) needed
decontamination (for whatever reason) got the soap, water and brush
treatment.  (As a historic note, former president Jimmy Carter was part
of a decontamination team that came up from the US to help clean up a
heavy water leak from one of the reactors in the late 1950's.)

Anyway, if the paper can be "washed", then it is possible that you can
decontaminate them, although the water will have to be disposed of in
accordance with state, local, federal and international regulations.
(You don't want trouble with AECB.)  (Just as you can't just throw a
smoke detector out.  They contain a small radioactive source.)

Since radioactive chemicals can only be legally handled by licensed
people (at least in Canada), it is possible that a) a conservator will
not be allowed to do the cleaning since they aren't certified to do so
b) if a conservator is permitted to work on the documents, they will
likely legally need to be supervised by and authorized person to ensure
that everything is done in accordance with regulations.

-Doug Nishimura

                  Conservation DistList Instance 7:38
                 Distributed: Monday, November 8, 1993
                        Message Id: cdl-7-38-003
Received on Sunday, 7 November, 1993

[Search all CoOL documents]