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Chairmen Urge Investigation In Wake of Plutonium Spill

Jul 9, 2008
Press Release

(Washington, DC) – Today the House Committee on Science and Technology Chairman Bart Gordon, Subcommittee on Technology & Innovation Chairman David Wu, and Subcommittee on Space & Aeronautics Chairman Mark Udall sent a letter to the Secretary of Commerce urging him to immediately establish an independent panel to thoroughly investigate the environmental, health, and safety programs at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), especially those related to radioactive and hazardous materials. 

On June 9, 2008, there was an accidental release of plutonium at the NIST laboratory in Boulder, CO.  Researchers discovered that a vial holding plutonium-containing powder had cracked and that particles had spilled from the vial.  Since that time, despite the Committee's inquiries, NIST has not provided clear information regarding how the radioactive material was contained and whether correct and rigorous emergency procedures were followed.

In their letter to the Secretary, the Chairmen expressed concern about potential "inadequate training of personnel handling radioactive materials" and NIST's apparent lack of an adequate emergency response plan.  In an earlier letter to the NIST Director, the Chairmen wrote: "NIST researchers are renowned for their exemplary scientific work.  It is disappointing to learn that this leadership does not appear to extend to laboratory health and safety issues."

The Technology and Innovation Subcommittee will hold an oversight hearing to examine this issue further on July 15th at 11 am.

For more information, please visit the Committee’s website  

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110.288

110th Congress