Feds Still Measuring Radioactivity in Boise Apartment 

"We're still trying to characterize what's in there; it's a very complicated task."

EPA and IDEQ teams are "characterizing" radioactive materials found in a Boise apartment.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

EPA and IDEQ teams are "characterizing" radioactive materials found in a Boise apartment.

Yes, the items--such as smoke alarms, 1950s-era pottery and uranium ore rocks--are commercially available to anyone, but that didn't make the discovery that they were being disassembled to accumulate radioactive power and liquid at a Boise apartment complex any less extraordinary.

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

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

And in spite of some Idaho media reports saying that only low-level radiation was detected on site, federal investigators insisted that the amount of radioactive materials discovered in a third-floor apartment at the Renaissance Apartments at Hobble Creek, west of Boise, was still being tallied.

"The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is still waiting to determine the quantity of quality of the radioactive materials still being discovered," NRC spokeswoman Lara Uselding told BW.

Officials from the EPA and IDEQ said they were still identifying all of the substances at the apartment.

"We're still trying to characterize what's in there; it's a very complicated task," said Weigel.

The drama began Wednesday, Oct. 8, when NRC inspectors showed up at the door of the apartment--investigators had not yet identified the residents' identities as BW was going to press. The NRC also wouldn't say how it came about the tip, leading teams to the apartment.

"We'll always protect the caller's privacy. That's not information we would share," said Uselding, who added that it didn't take long before the inspectors' level of concern was raised.

"They initiated a state response program," said Dietrich. "Boise police and a hazmat team from Boise Fire arrived first to do an initial screening. And our teams came in shortly thereafter."

Those teams have included experts from the U.S. Department of Energy (via the Idaho National Lab), the EPA and IDEQ.

"Initially, we had about 18 people on site," said Weigel. "We're down to about a dozen people in there each day. This will easily take us through the week."

Throughout the apartment, teams discovered liquids and powders--all radioactive--sitting in cups and containers.

"Right now, all we know is that the residents were using various hazardous chemicals to break down materials into radioactive components," said Weigel.

Among the items being broken down and manipulated was a substantial collection of uranium ore rocks.

Crews also detected some radioactivity outside of the apartment.

"There were some spots on the stairway and sidewalk. It looks like some liquid has been spilled," said Weigel. "Our goal is to protect the public and conduct a cleanup of that toxic and radioactive material as quickly as possible and let the neighbors return to their normal life."

Things were anything but normal as neighbors were quickly tested and crews entered nearby apartments to look for possible contamination.

"We've spoken with all the neighbors in that building," said Dietrich. "We haven't found any radiation levels in those apartments. The neighbors are free to come and go as they need; and, at this time, we don't see any risk to the residents."

Meanwhile, the Office of Investigation--the NRC's enforcement arm--has been brought in to determine if criminal charges should be filed against the residents, who have since been relocated to other living quarters.

"Certain licensees, such as hospitals or oil and gas companies, have licenses to possess source material. Once radioactivity reaches a certain amount, it requires a license and, no, this individual didn't have a license with the NRC," said Uselding.

The NRC spokeswoman took a breath.

"No, this is not a normal day," she said.

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