Contaminated Savannah River Site worker to make full recovery

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A Savannah River Site worker contaminated with plutonium after his finger was punctured in a 2010 accident will fully recover, according to a final medical analysis released Tuesday.

“Based on the estimated dose, there is no expected impact to the length or quality of the employee’s life,” Savannah River Nuclear Solutions concluded, after more than a year of monitoring that followed the June 14, 2010, accident at the site’s F-Area.

The employee was sorting radioactive waste for shipment to a disposal site in New Mexico. The investigation found that he improperly inserted a survey flag into a can of radioactive waste, causing the wire shaft of the flag to puncture six layers of protective clothing and his index finger.

The worker, who did not consent to have his name released, received a “committed effective” radiation dose of 31.6 REM. That dose is defined as the total amount of radiation estimated to be measured over a 50-year period, which averages less than 1 REM per year, company spokesman D.T. Townsend said.

That annual dose is below the U.S. Department of Energy limit of 2 REM per year and also below the federal dose limit of 5 REM per year. According to the American Nuclear Society, a REM, or Roentgen equivalent man, is a unit used in radiation protection to measure the amount of damage to human tissue from a dose of ionizing radiation.

Although the incident had the potential to be more serious, “the positive outcome of the final dose is attributed to the quick response taken to excise the wound and to provide chelation treatments, both immediately after and long term, following the event,” the company said in a statement.

A third party peer review of the results was conducted by a private contractor, MJW Technical Associates, which confirmed the dose assessment, Townsend said.

Chelation is a therapy used to bind and remove transuranic material from the body. Determining the final committed effective dose requires a wait of 100 days after the last chelation treatment.

The employee has returned to the Ohio area to work for the Fluor Daniel consortium at the Gaseous Diffusion Plant. Before his employment at SRS, the employee worked at the Mound and Fernald DOE sites in Ohio.

A follow-up investigation by the DOE’s Office of Health, Safety and Enforcement last year identified four violations of radiation protection and nuclear safety regulations in occupational dose limits, written procedures and work processes, training and qualification, and quality assurance.

Savannah River Nuclear Solutions was later ordered to pay $243,750 in fines.

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corgimom 10/18/11 - 03:47 pm
Of course SRNS is going to

Of course SRNS is going to say that.

I would venture to say that if you asked that worker, "Hey, is it ok if you are contaminated with plutonium, even if it's a "safe" (*snort*) amount?" that worker would've said "OH NO, IT'S NOT OK."

Four violations are four too many. And $243,750 in fines wasn't enough.

Nobody can possibly say what the long-term effects that worker will suffer down the road. This was totally preventable, never should've happened, and is downright shameful.

onlysane1left 10/18/11 - 04:03 pm
There are so many questions

There are so many questions that make me wonder in this article. How does a flag shaft break 6 (SIX) layers of PROTECTION? Did the employee get a transfer to Ohio? The employee received 31.5 REM committed effective dose for 50 year, which is confusing for me, but do they measure dose per 50 years out there, like people out there are working for 50 years. How is it determined a high leve dose if it is broken up over 50 years? Too much unexplained......

fftaz71 10/18/11 - 05:09 pm
corgi..they did determine

corgi..they did determine that the worker violated protocol when he improperly placed the flag in the can of waste. As long as humans are doing these jobs, there will be errors... nobody is perfect. It was preventable, but it was the employee who made the mistake.

Sane one, i think what they are trying to say is that he got the equivalent of 50 yrs of exposure...i think.

Safety 10/19/11 - 10:29 am
I'm struck by the reporter's

I'm struck by the reporter's leaving "he improperly inserted a survey flag into a can of radioactive waste" without any sense of what may have happened. What were the work procedures? Was there adequate training? Was there speedup to make sure the work was completed? It appears as though the DOE may have thought otherwise about whom was at fault in this situation when they handed out a $250,000 fine (I agree with Corgimom about the amount). I'm surprised that there wasn't a comment from a worker health and safety expert who could have provided a more balanced and nuanced assessment of the accident and the employees alleged malfeasance.
I also find the assumption that “Based on the estimated dose, there is no expected impact to the length or quality of the employee’s life” very troubling. Consider the concerns and anxiety the employee might have about future potential insults to his health. The stress and anxiety associated with wondering about what could happen to him over the next 5, 10, 20, or more years surely could impact the quality of his life as well as his health.

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