Kansas City, Mo. — The level of the dangerous carcinogen beryllium permitted at a Kansas City federal complex where workers have complained of health problems far exceeds the limit at other plants, the Kansas City Star has found.
The newspaper also reported on Sunday that the plant’s own threshold was still surpassed in government testing.
The Energy Department previously established beryllium standards that apply to such things as air and equipment surfaces — but not specifically walls, floors and ceilings.
The Kansas City plant established its own goal of 1 microgram of beryllium per 100 square centimeters for those surfaces, said Gayle Fisher, speaking for the Energy Department’s National Nuclear Security Administration and its private contractor, Honeywell FM&T. She said it offered protection to workers at the Bannister Federal Complex, which has housed a Department of Defense landfill and manufacturing sites for weapons parts and aircraft.
But Mike Van Dyke, one of the nation’s leading industrial hygienists in the handling of beryllium, said most complexes adopted a 0.2-microgram standard years ago.
The standard in place at the Kansas City plant stunned Mark Fisher, who is chairman of an employee organization that shares oversight of beryllium standards at the Energy Department’s Hanford Site in Washington state.
“That’s way too high,” Fisher said.
He said the Hanford Site has adopted an even more stringent standard of 0.1 micrograms in recent years after previously adhering to the 0.2 standard.
Plants adhering to the 0.2 standard include the Oak Ridge Y-12 Plant in Tennessee, the Pantex facility in the Texas Panhandle and Lawrence Livermore in California.
Gayle Fisher acknowledged that plants may be using different standards. But she said the Kansas City plant “contacted professionals in the beryllium field to identify best practices for worker protection.“
The Kansas City Star also reported that documents it obtained found that several government inspections detected levels of beryllium that far exceeded the plant’s own guidelines after officials said it had been cleaned a decade ago. Some readings were as high as 50 micrograms of beryllium per 100 square centimeters.
But Honeywell and the Energy Department’s National Nuclear Security Administration never announced those findings.
“It’s shocking that the public and employees were told this was cleaned up and the government’s own inspectors found such horrendous levels of contamination after the entire plant was supposedly cleaned up,” said Kansas City Councilman John Sharp, who represents District 6, where the plant is located.
Gayle Fisher, who only responded to questions by e-mail, said recently that the areas with high readings had been cleaned up. She said the documents demonstrated that.
“Any suggestion that cleanup has not been performed or there is a lack of worker protection controls in place would be errant and misleading,” she wrote.
However, Van Dyke and environmental experts with General Services Administration and the Missouri Department of Natural Resources reviewed the documents and say they saw no evidence that a cleanup was done.
“Some of the areas that (the documents say) have been decontaminated still show high levels of beryllium,” said Angela Brees, a spokeswoman for GSA, which has office space at the plant.
Brees said she also asked NNSA recently for a cleanup plan of the area but never got one.
“I said if you guys have a cleanup plan that would sort of be the end of it,” Brees said.