DOE Cites Beryllium Exposure Incidents at Sandia

A senior U.S. Energy Department official in a letter last week cited three cases in which personnel at the Sandia National Laboratories in New Mexico might have faced a dangerous amount of exposure to the metal beryllium, the Albuquerque Journal reported (see GSN, June 28, 2011).

Beryllium is employed in the study and development of nuclear warheads. The toxic metal's dust, if breathed in, can cause lung cancer or other pulmonary damage.

John Boulden, who heads the Enforcement and Oversight Office of the Energy Department's safety branch, in a March 5 letter noted five incidents dating to 2010 in which Sandia staffers came into close contact with dangerous substances. He raised questions "about the level of rigor applied by Sandia and its subcontractors" in establishing and carrying out operations for protecting workers engaged in risky efforts.

Two beryllium incidents occurred in 2010 and 2011 through operation of the Z machine, a massive piece of equipment used in tests aimed at helping to sustain the U.S. nuclear arsenal (see GSN, Jan. 6). A third incident involved an employee at a waste management sector at the laboratory.

Sandia officials said the safety concerns have been identified and would be addressed.

"We have a well established safety improvement process," according to laboratory spokeswoman Heather Clark. "The concerns identified in the letter will be addressed through that process with an emphasis on the common characteristics shared by the events" (John Fleck, Albuquerque Journal, March 9).

March 13, 2012
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A senior U.S. Energy Department official in a letter last week cited three cases in which personnel at the Sandia National Laboratories in New Mexico might have faced a dangerous amount of exposure to the radioactive metal beryllium, the Albuquerque Journal reported.

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