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How Safe Is The N. Campus Incinerator?

How Safe Is The N. Campus Incinerator? image How Safe Is The N. Campus Incinerator? image
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Creative Commons (Attribution, Non-Commercial, Share-alike)
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Agenda Publications
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The U-M is exposing North Campus Family Housing residents to unnecessary and dángerous levéis of radiation according to an expert in radioactive waste management The source of the radiation is a University operated bio-incinerator which burns radiated animal carcasses used in medical research. Despite objections from nearby residents, the University continúes to opérate the incinerator and plans to expand the facility to serve as a hazardous chemical waste transfer point and lowlevel radioactive waste management facility. The North wood V Family Housing Units are located on the South side of Hubbard Rd. between Huron Parkway and Green road, just 300 meters from the incinerator. Residents first became aware of the incinerator in December of 1989 when they read a story in The Ann Arbor News detailing the operations of the University and their planned expansión of the site. Since their discovery of the site, Northwood families have actively opposed the expansión plans and demanded that the currently operating incinerator be shut down until it is made safer. Many are active because they are afraid. "I am living in a neighborhood where there is possible long term health risks to my family," wrote Northwood resident Jenny Kim in a recent letter to AGENDA. Currently, facilities which handle hazardous waste (asbestos, mercury, biohazardous materials, etc.) are located on central campus at the North University Building with limited storage facilities at a University-owned Willow Run site. The expansión of the North Campus facility is necessary, the University claims, because current sites are too small to handle the waste stored in the buildings. In addition the central campus site has insufficient ventilation and is in an area of undesirably heavy traffic. The U-M's North Campus Incinerator Building on Baxter road has been burning radiated carcasses of laboratory animáis for 20 years. In 1989, according to NUS, the incinerator operated 125 days and burned 584 small animal carcasses. The waste is transported from central campus via hazardous waste hauling vehicles to the North Campus Incinerator Building located adjacent to the University laundry and approximately 300 meters northeast of campus housing. Three years ago the University revealed plans to expand f unctions of the building to include serving as a hazardous chemical waste transfer point and low-level radioactive waste management facility. Occasional explosives and unstable chemicals would be accepted, and solid radioactive waste would bê compacted and stored, or shipped to a low-level waste disposal facility. In addition, hazardous chemicals and radioactive materials would be shipped and stored at the site. According to University plans, the proposed facility will continue to incinérate biological waste on the lower level of the building. Storage funcüons and radioactive waste management will be carried out in the 4,500 sq. ft. of unused space on this level and an additional 4,000 sq. ft. of storage space to be constructed as a mezzanine level. In response to Northwood residents' protests over the planned expansión of the facility, the University commissioned ÑUS, a risk assessment corporporation, to review the site. The NUS report, presented to the public in a meeting February 14, 1991, calculated that the operating incinerator currently releases a radiation dose of 12 millirems per year to the nearby population. This is within the 1 5 mrem year recommended regulation by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The Residents' Council, an organization representing University housing residents' concerns, commissioned Dr. Marvin Resnikoff of Radioacti ve Waste Management Associates to review the NUS study. Resnikoff is an international consultant on radioactive waste management issues, former Research Director of the Radioactive Waste Campaign, and author of several books on radioactive waste. The review was commisioned by the Residents ' Council because, according to president Alisa Leonard, they "wanted to get an independent opinión that was not paid for by the University." Resnikoff ran calculations similar to those performed by NUS and found the radiation dose to be "66 mremyear, over four times greater than the NUS resulL" Resnikoff goes on to explain that the effect of this radiation "is to increase the probability of thyroid cáncer and hyperthyroidism. We also expect these health effects to be age-dependent. Since a child has rapidly growing cells and more years to live, the opportunity is greater for cáncer to develop when children are exposed." Resnikoff cautioned: 'There is nó magie number which is safe or unsafe. The greater exposure people get the more likely they are to get cáncer. If you want to lower the number of cáncer cases you need to move [the incinerator] away from people." When asked by AGENDA why his fïndings are so different from NUS, Resnikoff said, "I just assumed normal releases for a year entirely within the legal limits. I maintain NUS needs to redo their calculations." Although the incinerator was found to be in compliance with regulatory requirements according to Federal and State law, Resnikoff states in his report that the site will never be completely safe for surrounding residents. "Under incident-free operation, local residents would be subject to direct radiation exposures from passing delivery vans and would receive a radiation dose due to the inhalation of radioactive materials from the pathological incinerator." Resnikoff s report goes on to say: "The primary hazard to North Campus residents due to incident-free operation involves inhalation of radioactive materials from the bio-incinerator. An additional hazard involves direct radiation from the delivery vans. This latter hazard was not estimated by NUS..." Resnikoff also points to the danger of "incidents" including van accidents during transport, human errors, and malfunctions in the equipment at the site. His report states: "Accidents are possible. The building would contain explosives, unstable chemicals, flammables and natural gas." "Basically I don 't believe they [NUS] looked at the worst-case accidents," Resnikoff told AGENDA. 'They assumed that any explosión or fire would be quickly put out and limited to one section of the facility." Northwood residents allege that the incinerator has already failed at least five times in the past 20 years. Ken Schatzle, Director of the División of Occupational Safety and Environmental Health at the UM, responded to this claim saying "That may be a pretty good estímate as to what happened." He went on to explain, "That happens periodically and we go out and take care of it when it does." Both NUS and Resnikoff agree on at least one thing - that the incinerator should incorpórate pollution control equipment, such as scrubbers, and HEPA and charcoal filters. These filters, they say, will reduce health risks to the surrounding community. Northwood residents want to see the incinerator shut down until the recommended filters are installed. The University refuses because, according to Joe Ousley, Director of News and Information Services at the U-M, "The waste is safe, the consultants have found that. They just said it would make it better to put in filters." Schatzle said "We have to continue to burn because we have no place to store the animáis now." With or without filters, Resnikoff s report argües that "incineration maximizes the radiation dose to the general population." He writes that continued operation of the existing incinerator and the proposed expanded operations are "unwise actions," and goes on to say that "if an incinerator must be operated, it should not be near the public." Frank Dombek staff consultant at NUS did not agree with Resnikoff 's conclusions, but said that "We would feel more comfortable if the filter arrangements were added." The NUS study contains pages of new recommended safety features for the proposed operations. They conclude their study by stating that with "the implementation of our recommendations, this facility could provide a safe and efficiënt operation for hazardous and low level radioactive waste management." Resnikoff also suggests many changes for the proposed facility. In particular he states in his report: "We strongly recommend that the hazardous chemical and lowlevel radioactive waste operations be separated and be conducted in separate build(see N. Campus Incinerator, page 11) N. CAMPUS INCINERATOR (from page 5) ings. As planned, the proposed facility will have explosivos, natural gas, toxic Chemicals, ftammables. Combining these material in one facility greatty increases the accident potential." According to Schatzle, the University "will implement all recommendations that are necessary to make it a safe place. Anything that is in [the NUS report] that we feel should be done to make it safe will be done." But, he said, a time schedule for the continued development and installation of safety features has not yet been developed. When asked if they would implement the recommendations made by Resnikoff in addition to those suggested by NUS, Schatzle replied "We're following what NUS said becuase they were choosen by a committee that was comprised of students, faculty and staff." For Northwood residents, implementation of the suggested safety features is not enough. They are asking that different sites be explored as options for both the current incineration ánd the planned expansión. In a recent interview Schatzle said "no other sites are being looked into. We genérate material on campus and we want to dispose of it on campus. ..[this site] could handle all the material in one building." In addition, he noted that "there were some cost factors." Lisa Oliver Sorenson, a Northwood resident, is not satisfied with the University's response. "Because their priority is money and convenience," Sorenson said, "I don't think they have adequately explored altematives to incineration or alternativo sites for expansión." Expansión of the incinerator site was originally to begin May 1 , 1991 . According to the University administration construction is not scheduled to begin on that date. In spite of the outcry from Northwood residents, the administration has made it clear they will eventually go ahead with the planned expansión of the incinerator site.


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