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Olympic Park Radioactive Waste Scare as Regulations Breached

.: Olympic contractor tests a soil sample for radiation with a Geiger counter. Photo © Mike WellsOlympic contractor tests a soil sample for radiation with a Geiger counter. Photo © Mike Wells

A document obtained from an undisclosed source reveals that hazardous radioactive waste was excavated and moved within the London Olympic Park before official permission was granted.

In this document Vivienne Ramsey, head of planning for the Olympic project, warns the Olympic Delivery Authority …

“You are reminded that Remediation Change Notes [legal documents allowing work to continue] are intended to be issued and agreed prior to works being undertaken. The submitted Note is retrospective and therefore gives the Local Planning Authority no opportunity to comment on the adequacy of the proposed measures prior to them being carried out.”

The fact that work to excavate, handle, transport, and store this material was carried out before permission was granted is a serious breach of regulations, and places doubt on the safety of workers and local residents. The situation may also influence the legacy value of land and housing.

Though the authorities have known for some time that radioactive waste was buried in the Olympic Park it is not until now that the scale of the problem has emerged. Documents reveal that more than 7,000 tonnes of waste has been found on site to date, much of it unexpected. Some 7,300 tonnes has been placed in a radioactive storage bunker built into the approach to a bridge in the Olympic Park – within 250m of Stratford International station and around 400 metres from the Olympic Stadium. Olympic Delivery Authority contractors claim that the waste in the storage cell will be safe for at least 1,000 years. The waste, a legacy of the site’s industrial history, is something Olympic bosses have been trying to play down, stressing that it is “Low Level” and “naturally occurring” radioactive material.

However, Doctor Chris Busby, an expert on radiation and health, comments that radioactive material can be classified as Low Level or Naturally Occurring but still be extremely hazardous.

Dr Busby also notes that data on radioactive material in the Olympic Park shows a radiation signature which…

“suggests that the contamination is from significant levels of uranium. This should be considered to be a serious alpha and photoelectron emitter inhalation hazard.”

Much of the buried radioactive waste has been found on the site of the main stadium itself and includes radium, polonium, and thorium as well as uranium. The race to meet the Olympic deadline may have resulted in inadequate surveying, as the radioactive hazard was only detected after contaminated material had been unwittingly excavated.

Agencies with workers on site include the Environment Agency and the Police; neither of these agencies have any information on the risk assessment for any potential radiological uptake of their staff on the Olympic site.

One of the pathways for radiological uptake is from dust. Another document shows concerns over inadequate dust suppression on site. Residents living near the Olympic construction site have been complaining of dust from the site since works began in 2007, yet attempts to improve poor dust management measures have only been implemented relatively recently.

Doctor Busby comments that …

“if there is documentary evidence of the disposal of Thorium waste at the site, then this has to be taken seriously as Thorium dust represents a serious radiological inhalation hazard. “

Another request for data on radiation monitoring was refused by the Olympic Delivery Authority who say the cost of collating the data is too high, they claim …

“the public interest in maintaining the exemption [to withhold the information] outweighs the public interest in disclosing the information.”

In another departure from normal practice, areas of the Olympic construction site that are contaminated with radioactive material are not marked with the familiar “radioactive roundel” but rather have been marked “Heavily Contaminated Area”.

© Mike J Wells July 2009

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Public interest - who decides?

“the public interest in maintaining the exemption [to withhold the information] outweighs the public interest in disclosing the information.” - According to whom? When was the "public" consulted on this matter? As a member of the public living near to the site, I feel quite certain that disclosing the information about radioactive waste far outweighs any benefit from withholding it. We need to step up the pressure. Government petition?

ODA request that I post their press release.

The ODA emailed me as the author of this piece insisting that in the "interest of balance and accuracy" I post their press release as a comment here.

An ODA spokesperson said: “Health and safety of the workforce and local people is our number one priority. In the cleaning and clearing of the Olympic Park, much of it contaminated through decades of industrial use, we have reused over 80% of previously contaminated soil that we excavated and recycle or store of reuse over 90% of demolition materials.

“As we announced last year small amounts of material containing low level radioactive elements was found during the clean up of the site. In accordance with Environment Agency guidance a small amount of soil containing traces of this very low level radioactive material, classed as ‘exempt’ under current environmental law, has been safely buried in a cell under a bridge embankment on site. It is covered and capped on all sides. This safe disposal has been approved by the Environment Agency and the legacy landowner the London Development Agency and in no way poses a risk to the health of the workforce or public now or in the future.”

- The whole process has been carefully monitored and measurements taken standing directly on the bridge show no increase over normal background radiation levels.

- The concentration of the radioactivity in the material is well below the levels that require controls by law and it is buried at least 3 metres below a bridge abutment and road.

- Neither workers or the public will be in direct contact with the material and will not be exposed to increased levels of direct radiation in any way. Being on a plane for an hour would give you a dose of radiation which would be 1000 times the exposure from this buried material.

An Environment Agency spokesperson said: “A 1940s landfill site has been cleared during the construction of the Olympic Park. Some of the soil from the clearance work contained traces of low level radioactivity - a level comparable to background radiation naturally occurring in geological formations such as granite.

“The Olympic Delivery Authority, in consultation with the Environment Agency, safely buried this soil in a cell, covered and capped on all sides, on site. This is a proven, safe method of disposing of such material, ensuring that there is no impact on people or the environment. At no point during this process were the workforce or public exposed to increased levels of radiation either through direct contact or dust.”

Radioactive disposal dump location

The precise location of the disposal area is now known to be 250m from the stadium exterior

What the ODA and HSE had to say about the Eastway contamination

It’s interesting to consider what the experts had to say about the Eastway/West Ham Tip at the time residents and travellers were still living at Clays Lane in 2007 when the clean up/dust production started and in early 2008.

Regarding the ‘clean up’ of the Eastway Lawrence Waterman, the ODA’s head of Health and Safety, said in February 2008 that the decontamination programme ‘is dealing with an area of contamination and semi-dereliction that represented over many years a far greater risk to public health than the short-term clean-up process.’ Actually the greater danger arose from digging it up and turning it into dust. Indeed a DEFRA document ‘Industry Profiles’ specifically refers to the dangers of inhaling thorium dust, thorium being one of the radioactive elements expected to be present in the Eastway and other sites.

However, if what he said was true he had to explain how those of us at Clays Lane had been allowed to live there for 25 years without anyone showing any concern for us despite the fact that we were living on or next to this ‘greater risk to public health’. Of course he didn’t.

The same Industry Profiles document warned about ‘Landfill sites…capable (of producing effective dose), but only in some cases, eg closed landfills in a region containing industries which have produced or disposed of radioactive wastes prior to 1963.’ The West Ham Tip, which included Clays Lane and the Eastway Cycle Track, was just such a landfill site. The document went on to say ‘The use of radioactive materials, and the consequent possibility of disposal to landfill, was historically more widespread than at present…. Wastes from these activities are likely to have arisen from the early 1900s onwards and will have been disposed of along with domestic refuse.’ In other words the stuff could be lying around anywhere.

However, when I was emailing the HSE about these problems the officer dealing with my enquiries responded in July 2007,‘As I understand it, you are saying that reports hint that such material could be anywhere but I've seen nothing that says this is really so.’

Well, yes, actually, that was what the report was hinting!

It made me wonder if he had ever read the DEFRA document or knew anything about the history of the site.

7,000 tonnes of radioactively contaminated soil buried on site suggests quite a lot of radioactive material was lying around.

"Doctor Chris Busby, an

"Doctor Chris Busby, an expert on radiation and health"
Don't make me laugh!

The government models of nuclear danger

The government models of nuclear danger are up to X 1,000 times in error. They ignore the risks of inhalation of alpha emitters. Dr.Busby is ridiculed by government officials on the "shoot the messenger principle"

The current active disaster in this area is Fallujah,a recent link to which I provide. In Iraq Chris Busby is a "terrorist" for distributing a health questionnaire, according to the IRAQ government !!!

Of course the ward based figures on infant mortality,let alone congenital malformations, will be kept secret...because they will show any undue exposure to stray radiation.The before,during and after figures will be very telling (please remember the natural 9 month lag)

It is truly unfortunate that pregnant women, wherever they are, form the natural,and exquisitely sensitive "geiger-counter".

Our future nuclear new build is another reason to bury the bad news, as well as the very very dangerous dusts.

Well it appears someone has

Well it appears someone has went through A LOT of trouble to defamate his character. I dont think that one dodgy link carries much weight, its usually the "powers that be" that are economical with the truth anyway. Plus the fact is that if there is radioactive waste there, it wont matter if Dr Busby was telling the truth or not, in fact it will be the very least of peoples worries....

This is a sad fact of humans

This is a sad fact of humans who may have been pressured to cut corners, to get the job done and this will happen
regardless of best practice and procedures. We do and will breach our rules and there will be consequences.

So anyone seeking to attack

So anyone seeking to attack the games infrastructue could either unwittingly or deliberately blow this store into the sky above london.

I wonder what Helen Caldicot has to say on the subject.