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

Subject: Radioactive contamination of records

Radioactive contamination of records

From: Hal Erickson <hrhme>
Date: Thursday, November 11, 1993
re: Victoria Ladd-DeGraff's Niagara-Mohawk quandary:

Duane Chartier, of ConservArt Associates in California (310-391-3537),
apparently worked for years as a research chemist in the nuclear
industry, investigating the complexities of uranium's chemistry in both
its crude forms, like yellow cake, and in its more refined and better
characterized forms.  His impression of Niagara-Mohawk's predicament was
that simplistic or inexpensive cleaning techniques were unlikely to be

Larry Hamlin, Radiation Safety Specialist at U.T.'s Office of
Environmental Health and Safety, confirmed my recollection that alpha
radiation couldn't penetrate even a single sheet of Mylar, assuming the
materials could be safely Mylar-encapsulated.  He cautions that yellow
cake is so friable and is so dangerous when ingested or inhaled that it
is typically handled in a glove box.  He recommended placing a vacuum
cleaner inside a glove box with the materials, then vacuuming any loose
yellow cake off the pages prior to any attempt at encapsulation.
Afterwards, the vacuum and glove box would have to be decontaminated or
be landfilled, but he points out that this is significantly less
expensive than, say, decontaminating or landfilling a fumehood, complete
with ductworks and exhaust fans.

I personally worked in the Hazardous Materials section of our OEHS for
the better part of seven years, including a 9-month stint with the
radioactive waste disposal crew.  Neither Larry nor I have ever heard of
a successful decontamination of a porous material like paper, though the
operation is not inherently impossible.  It is, however, so difficult
that it is essentially never even contemplated.  As Doug pointed out in
his posting in the previous DistList, the materials are instead usually
written off and sent to the landfill.  Accordingly, I'm inclined to
suggest encapsulation if the materials have intrinsic value, or archival
photocopying if they don't.  Encapsulation without contamination of the
outer surface of the Mylar should be relatively easy once the loose
yellow cake has been removed by vacuuming.

A final note on certification requirements is in order.  There is a
possibility that yellow cake is considered NORML (Naturally Occurring
Radioactive Material) and that the certification requirements are
different (less stringent?) for a conservator planning to work on these
materials.  Otherwise it sounds like any conservator with a solid
science background could complete a 40-hour Radiation Technician exam
preparation course like those offered around the country by companies
like Woodson Associates (301-990-0751) and get certified fairly easily
under either U.S. or Canadian law.  The RadTech-certified conservator
would still probably need to work under the guidance of Niagara-Mohawk's
Radiation Safety Officer.  I should caution that I'm *not* an expert on
certification issues, and that these remarks are merely my best
understanding of a complex set of regulations whose interpretation is
best left to an RSO.

I hope this is of some assistance.

Hal Erickson
Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center
Conservation Department
University of Texas at Austin

                  Conservation DistList Instance 7:39
                 Distributed: Sunday, November 14, 1993
                        Message Id: cdl-7-39-003
Received on Thursday, 11 November, 1993

[Search all CoOL documents]