The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will independently evaluate air quality at a nuclear waste repository in southeastern New Mexico during the recovery from a radiation leak.
EPA said its environmental monitoring and assessment team will install its own air monitors at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) as part of a review of the Department of Energy’s air sampling program.
A radiation release Feb. 14 at WIPP has kept the repository closed to shipments. An investigation into the source of the leak is ongoing.
Separately, WIPP said in a statement Monday the EPA will evaluate the number and location of environmental monitoring stations “to identify any needed improvements and ensure adequate monitoring.”
A radiation release at the facility contaminated 17 workers and sent toxic particles into the air around the plant.
No workers were underground at the site in southeastern New Mexico when on February 14 air sensors half a mile below surface in an ancient salt formation triggered an alarm, indicating excessive amounts of radioactive particles.
Thirteen workers working above ground when the accident happened initially tested positive for radiation exposure.
Another four workers who were at the site the day after the accident have tested positive for trace amounts of radiation, U.S. Department of Energy spokesman Bradley Bugger said in statement. None of the 17 employees should experience any health effects, he said.
No workers were below ground when air sensors detected high levels of radiation and automatically switched to a filtration system designed to capture the vast majority of radioactive particles, which can harm humans.
The radiation leak was the second in a back to back series of events at the facility.
On Feb. 5 a truck fire ended up ignited by a buildup of oil and other combustible materials that personnel should regularly clean off the vehicle. The truck also was operating without an automatic fire suppression system, a Department of Energy (DoE) report said. And one of several mistakes made in the chaotic moments that followed switched the filtration systems in the mine a half-mile underground and sent smoke billowing into areas where workers expected to have “good air.”