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TULSA, Okla. (AP) — A University of Tulsa spokeswoman said school officials were "blindsided" when they recently learned that a small, radioactive chemical spill occurred last fall at college's north research campus.
Spokeswoman Mona Chamberlin said researchers involved in a project with oil and gas services company Tracerco spilled the radioactive isotope cesium-137 in the Process Building, but school officials didn't learn about it until last week. The joint industry project is managed by the university's Petroleum Engineering Department.
At least 21 people will be evaluated for potential exposure to the chemical, said Dr. Gerard Clancy, the college's vice president of health affairs. They will go through an initial assessment and undergo a medical exam. After that, a clinician will continue to monitor their conditions.
"No matter what, we're going to follow these people carefully and make sure nothing falls through the cracks," he said.
Cesium emits two types of radiation — beta particles and gamma rays— that have enough energy to damage human tissue. Some risk is involved for people who worked around the spill, but the risk for those who didn't is "exceedingly low," said Scott Holmstrom, associate professor of physics and campus radiation safety officer.
After the university learned of the spill, officials restricted access to the building, notified the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality and sent a campus-wide email Monday about the spill, which is about the size of a teaspoon.
Officials say an issue with the spill is that it wasn't reported for nearly a year, meaning it likely spread through the lab.
"Just imagine if one of your kids dropped jelly in the kitchen. People are going to step in it. It's going to move it around. You mop it; you're going to spread it around," Holmstrom said
The school is working with the department and Tracerco to clean up the spill.
Messages seeking comment from Tracerco representatives were left by the Tulsa World (http://bit.ly/1EvsvNn ).
Information from: Tulsa World, http://www.tulsaworld.com
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