New sampling data shows 'very small' radiation release at WIPP site on March 11 but not harmful

EL PASO, Texas - The U.S. Department of Energy has released a new update on the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) related to the monitoring of radiation emissions following a mid-February radiation leak.

"New air sampling data from emission monitoring at WIPP indicated a very small additional radiation release occurred March 11, but with no expected health impacts to workers, the public or the environment.  Samples collected at the same monitoring station, both prior to and for 72 hours after this release, have indicated background levels," according to the WIPP statement sent to ABC-7 Tuesday afternoon.

The statement goes on to say data received recently show a single air sample from the ventilation exhaust recorded 61 disintegrations per minute of americium on a sample collected the evening of March 11.

According to, "Disintegrations per minute (dpm) is a measure of radioactivity. It is the number of atoms in a given quantity of radioactive material that decay in one minute. Dpm is the number of atoms that have decayed, not the number of atoms that have been measured as decayed. Dpm is commonly used as a measure of radioactive contamination."

"This is expected given the amount of contamination captured by the WIPP ventilation system during the February 14 radiation release event," WIPP's March 18 statement reads. "Engineers believe the contamination was from previous deposits on the inner surface of the exhaust ductwork. 

New air data will be posted on Thursday of each week, as it becomes available, at  Current data continue to show that while occasional low level releases are anticipated, they are well below the standards designed to protect workers, the public and the environment. 

The independent Carlsbad Environmental Monitoring and Research Center (CEMRC) is reporting similar environmental sampling results.

According to the Center's recent news release, CEMRC's analysis continues to reflect that the air around the WIPP site is safe and poses no harm to the environment or the public. Their latest WIPP incident data may be found at

The Department of Energy is providing weekly updates after an underground fire that occurred on Feb. 5, 2014, as well as information on a Feb. 13-14 radiation leak at WIPP.

Radiation filters worked as designed when there was an equipment fire at the site in February, capturing more than 99.99 percent of the released radiation.

The WIPP website also states that radiation levels at the site are what you would normally find just about anywhere in the environment - much less than you'd get in a single dental X-ray.

WIPP also is reminding the public that WIPP does not have a Facebook page but does have an official Twitter account @WIPPNews.  WIPP is in the process of updating its website, but official content – including updated recovery activities,
environmental monitoring results, and DOE news releases – can only be found at the WIPP Recovery

More Information From WIPP

More Negative Test Results for WIPP Employees
Another set of 20 urine sample results for WIPP employees has come back negative. To date, 135 employees have been entered into the WIPP bioassay program, including many who requested testing.

At present, more than 100 urine samples have been analyzed and all results have been negative. Bioassay tests determine the presence of radioactive material in the human body by measuring radiation within the body through lung counting (looking for radioactive material in the lungs), or analyzing radioactive material in urine or fecal samples. Additional results will be posted as they become available. All results to date indicate risk levels to workers are well below occupational and health

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