Help me reassure someone that they don't need to evacuate from Niagara Falls.
May 17, 2010 8:08 AM   Subscribe

I live in Niagara Falls, NY. This year, the city is resurfacing Lewiston Road -- which, allegedly, has nuclear waste buried under it. Someone I know is very, very concerned about this and wants to evacuate for the duration of the work.

The article "Cult of Nuclearists" seems to have concerned them the most. They've also cited this government report and this epidemiology study.

Pointing out that the hotspots near us are barely above background radiation didn't seem to reassure them. They are concerned about the dust that it would kick up and that the company doing the work (supposedly) has no experience with this kind of situation.

For context, we live just off Lewiston Road and have a small child, which is particularly concerning to this individual. They live approximately 500 feet from the road.

I'm not particularly worried about this resurfacing, and am mostly looking to reassure them. But if I'm wrong not to be concerned, I'd certainly like to know.
posted by bitterpants to Technology (3 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Quick math:
1 Curie (Ci) = 3.7x10^10 decays per second.
1 pCi (pico curie) = 3700 decays per second.
1 pCi*60s = 2.22x10^6 decays per minute.

It is safe assumption that the radiation detector is going to pick up almost all the decays so the survey they did picked up about 0.1-1 pCi of material in the soil at certain hot spots. To give you an idea 1pCi is about equivalent to the amount of radioactive potassium-40 in your body and is considered 'background level'.

To be honest "we" have no clue what radiation does to people at such low levels. The U.S. government has taken the stance that we have a linear response to radiation, ie any dose = bad. "We" cant say scientifically it is right (and some things point to small doses of radiation is good) but it is the most cautious stance to take.

One thing that is bad though is that if the radiation level isn't going down over time, in this case ~40 years, that means there is a large quantity of radioactive material with a large half-life in the soil. This points to the fact that the soil probably has many toxic metals in it and I would tell my child to be extremely careful to wash his hands and not ingest any soil.
posted by metex at 9:14 AM on May 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

You might want to contact the New York state environmental agency -- my sister works in the Vermont version and they often respond to questions like this with detailed information. You could try calling 518-402-8013 and asking for "Chemical and Pollution Control." See this web site for more information.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 9:35 AM on May 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

ClaudiaCenter has a good idea, but I'll add that Niagra County is in DEC's Region 9, and you may have better luck contacting Regional staff directly. The Region 9 Headquarters is in Buffalo, and their number is (716) 851-7200.
posted by Jemstar at 11:42 AM on May 17, 2010

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