Safety Concerns Stop Work at Los Alamos Neutron Lab : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

Apr 13, 2000 - 12:27 PM

Safety Concerns Stop Work at Los Alamos Neutron Lab

The Associated Press

LOS ALAMOS, N.M. (AP) - Los Alamos National Laboratory has temporarily halted work at its Neutron Scattering Center because workers there were worried about mercury contamination. "It was an internal decision to stop work until we could fully address worker concerns," lab spokesman John Gustafson said Thursday.

Laboratory managers announced the "stop work" order Tuesday after workers became concerned that mercury contamination in two experimental rooms were spreading to other areas.

"We have no indication that mercury contamination at the facility presents a risk to employees or the environment," said Geoff Greene, deputy division director of the Los Alamos Neutron Science Center. "But because concerns have been raised, it is prudent to suspend operations in (the two rooms) until we can address safety issues and provide complete information to our workers."

The lab has been cleaning and decontaminating the two rooms since October.

Mercury can slow fetal and child development and cause brain damage.

The neutron center uses a high-energy proton accelerator to generate neutrons - one of the components of an atom - for scientific and defense applications. Mercury is used to stop neutron beams during experiments.

On a few occasions, the toxic material has spilled onto the floor in two of the rooms. The lab said spilled mercury is cleaned up using a special vacuum, but some tiny beads can be missed. Mercury detectors in the rooms show levels of the material well below exposure limits set by the Occupational Health and Safety Administration.

Workers cleaning up the areas were wearing protective clothing and respirators. None of their equipment showed exposure to the mercury, and blood and urine tests had negative results.

Greene said operations in the experimental rooms will not resume until lab officials are certain mercury doesn't pose an unnecessary risk to workers.

-- Carl Jenkins (, April 13, 2000

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