Monday, October 13, 2014

Radioactive Discovery at Boise Apartment Triggers Federal, State Response

Posted By on Mon, Oct 13, 2014 at 3:42 PM

click to enlarge EPA
  • EPA

An extraordinary and dangerous discovery has more than a few people concerned in and around an apartment complex off of Chinden Avenue, about six miles west of downtown Boise.

"I've never responded to anything like this before," Greg Weigel the Environmental Protection Agency's on-site coordinator told Boise Weekly.

"I've been doing emergency response coordination for six years, and I've never seen anything like this in Idaho," said Mark Dietrich, of the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality.

As BW was talking to federal and state environmental officials, teams in hazmat suits were on the scene of the third floor of the Renaissance Apartments at Hobble Creek on N. Park Meadow Way, west of Boise.

"We had about 18 people on site yesterday [Sunday]," said Weigel. "Today, our team included about a dozen people."

The incident began Wednesday, Oct. 8, when a team from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission arrived in Boise to interview residents of the apartment, who remain unidentified.

"Right now, an investigation is underway," said Weigel. 

BW spoke with Lara Uselding, a Texas-based spokeswoman for the NRC, who confirmed that officials had interviewed the residents and the so-called OI (Office of Investigation) of the NRC was awaiting more information before deciding whether to proceed with a formal criminal probe.

"We're waiting to hear about the quantity and quality of materials at the location," Uselding told BW

The NRC team that interviewed the apartment residents said they found enough evidence on the scene to trigger a statewide response.

"Boise Police and the hazmat team from the Boise Fire Department were first on the scene," said Dietrich. "They did an initial screening."

click to enlarge Crews are still trying to identify all that has been discovered in a West Boise apartment. - EPA
  • EPA
  • Crews are still trying to identify all that has been discovered in a West Boise apartment.

What subsequent teams discovered was stunning.

"The resident had obviously amassed a collection of commercially available consumer products that include radioactive materials," said Weigel, saying that included smoke alarms, orange pottery from the 1950s and radium-dialed instruments.

"He also had an amount of uranium ore," Weigel said.

According to investigators, the resident had been using hazardous materials to disassemble and/or manipulate the radioactive components.

"There was loose radiation in the apartment—both radioactive dust and liquid," said Weigel.

Additionally, crews found radioactive spots on the stairway and sidewalk outside the apartment.

"It looks like some liquid had been spilled," said Weigel.

Officials insist that neighbors were not at any immediate risk.

"We haven't found radiation levels in any outside apartments," said Dietrich. "We're working to keep the residents informed and they're free to come and go as they need to."

For now, EPA and DEQ officials said cleanup was their No. 1 priority.

"But we're still categorizing all of the materials in that apartment," said Weigel. "We're certainly going to be on the scene until at least through this week."

click to enlarge EPA
  • EPA

click to enlarge EPA
  • EPA

click to enlarge EPA
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