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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- A New York national laboratory has temporarily stopped shipping radioactive soil and groundwater after a small amount of contaminated water was found in a rail shipment to the Tooele County Envirocare facility.
An investigation into the liquid found nearly two weeks ago is focused on the workers who loaded contaminated dirt at the Brookhaven National Laboratory on Long Island, N.Y. Investigators believe they may have tracked the radioactive material onto heavy-duty plastic bags containing the waste as they loaded them into the rail cars for shipment.
At some point after the bags were loaded, snow fell into the open rail cars, which then were covered by tarps.
Investigators believe liquid found in the rail cars upon arrival in Utah was melted snow. Envirocare inspectors sampled the liquid leaking from drain holes and determined that one car had been contaminated with cesium 137 at a concentration no higher than usual background radiation at the facility, said company Senior Vice President Tim Barney. Another radioactive isotope, americium 241, was detected at levels too small to be quantified, he said.
Americium and cesium are byproducts of nuclear reactors and nuclear weapons tests. Brookhaven, established in 1947, is a multi-program laboratory whose research includes nuclear and high-energy physics.
The inspections by Envirocare and Brookhaven personnel found no measurable radioactivity in the soil or rails below the car, nor could they find any at a switching yard in Wendover or a rail yard in North Platte, Neb., where the rail cars went en route to Envirocare, said Brookhaven spokesman George Good.
(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)