WIPP leak sparks community concern

CARLSBAD, N.M. (KRQE) – People in southeastern New Mexico aren’t taking any chances after the radiation leak at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant near Carlsbad.

While the government insists the leak poses no danger to the public, a lab that scans for radiation exposure has seen more patients in the past few weeks than they typically see in months.

“They’re concerned. Did it make it to Carlsbad? Did I have an opportunity to breathe it in and ingest it? And if I come in and get counted, will it show up?” said Carlsbad Environmental Monitoring and Research Center Director Russell Hardy.

Related: 13 WIPP employees test positive for radiation

The research center has been scanning people for radiation since 1977.

On average, the center tests 35 public residents a year, but In the last week, Hardy said 16 people have scheduled an appointment.

Robert Ortiz hasn’t been tested yet, but says he’s thinking about it.

“You want a good future for these children and you don’t want this community to be wasted by something like that,” said Ortiz.

Ortiz has lived in Carlsbad for 65 years.

He said he’s afraid this minor leak could turn into something much worse.

“It’s not something that you want to go to sleep and wake up in the morning and not know if it’s going to happen,” he said.

The Department of Energy says the radiation released form WIPP is not a health hazard.

Carlsbad research center officials, who have also tested the site’s filters, agree.

“I’m willing to put my money where my mouth is and stand out there and breathe the air and send my employees out there to collect samples, so I don’t think it calls for a mass hysteria,” said Hardy.

Scans at the center are free.

The DOE says it’s continuing to collect samples in and around the plant. So far, the radiation levels detected are no more risky than a dental X-ray or an airline flight.

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