On-campus radioactive spill decontaminated

A researcher carried an isotope Monday outside the Schlundt Annex.
Caution tape warns students of a radioactive phosphorous-32 spill outside Schlundt Annex. Although the spill was low-risk, precautions were taken for student safety.

The MU Environmental Health and Safety Department is working to decontaminate an area inside and around Schlundt Hall Annex where low-risk radioactive material was spilled Monday.

MU spokesman Christian Basi said a researcher accidentally spilled a radioactive isotope, phosphorous-32, often used in water quality tests, onto his or her shoes while working in a lab on the first floor of the annex. The researcher left the lab, tracking the material into parts of the building and outside.

Basi said he didn't know who the researcher was or when the spilled material was discovered on the shoes, but knew the researcher immediately called the MU Environmental Health and Safety Department when the problem surfaced.

"The EHS acted very quickly," Basi said. "They cordoned off the area and made sure there were no risks to anyone's health."

The area where decontamination work is being done is cordoned off and the public is being barred from certain parts of the annex building until the cleaning is done.

"Six labs are now under restricted access, but no classes were affected," Basi said. "We didn't have to cancel or postpone any classes."

Kit Wagar, spokesman for the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, said the state doesn't consider the spill to be a major concern.

"Yes, this is radioactive, but it's very low-risk," Wagar said. "This is considered more of a nuisance than a hazard."

Minimal protective gear is needed for the members of the MU Environmental Health and Safety Department responsible for the decontamination work.

"People don't even need a haz-mat suit in the area," Wagar said. "Just your clothing is enough to protect from this type of radioactive material."

Basi said he's unsure how long the clean up process will take but it involves a variety of methods.

"There are different ways to do this decontamination work," Basi said. "In some cases they can just wash something down, but sometimes they just remove things, such as carpet."

The MU Department of Environmental Health and Safety will launch an investigation into the incident as soon as decontamination work is completed.

"They're still working on cleaning the area so we're devoting all possible resources on that right now," Basi said. "We'll determine any new procedures, if any, that need to be put in place."

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