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Radiation Continues to Impact MU Building

Posted: Oct 29, 2012 7:20 PM by Hailee Hopkins
Updated: Nov 4, 2012 7:48 PM

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COLUMBIA - The University of Missouri is still waiting to find out whether the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) will indefinitely postpone the decommissioning of a historic campus building.

Pickhard Hall, located on the Francis Quadrangle, is known to be contaminated with low levels of radiation. MU spokesman Christian Basi said the university has been aware of the radiation contamination since at least the 1970's. Basi also said the radiation levels in the building are not considered dangerous to students, staff, or public.

The noteworthy building was built in 1892 and originally functioned as MU's chemistry building. Basi said the university believes the contamination occurred in the 1900's when Professor Herman Schlundt extracted radioactive materials from natural ores for research purposes. "The radiation is naturally occuring from some metals that were brought into the building," said Basi.

Today the building is home to the University's Museum of Art and Archaeology and is on the National Register of Historic Places.

The NRC contacted MU in 2007 regarding new regulations that require buildings with natural occurring radioactive materials to be cleaned within two years and decommissioned. Decommissioning essentially means the building in question is taken off the NRC watch list according to Basi.

Removing the radiation from Pickard Hall hasn't been easy. Basi said that although the MU's Environmental Health and Safety has removed some radiation from the attic and basement of Pickard Hall, low levels of contamination still exist in hard to reach places like the tiles, walls, and pipes of the building.

The presence of the Museum of Art and Archaeology in Pickard Hall also contributes to contamination removal issues. Basi said it would "cost in excess of a million dollars" relocate the entire museum and several of the artifacts are too fragile to be moved.

Basi said MU has hired an outside contractor to oversee contamination removal. The university has also taken extra precautions by posting signs that clearly state where would be visitors may be affected by the radiation levels. "There are certain areas of the building that have been corded off, we ask that no one enter into those areas unless it is absolutely necessary," Basi said.

MU also requires staff members who work in the building to wear a radiation monitor called a dosimeter.

"I always put it on when I go back in the storage area where they've detected higher levels of radiation, I think we all are careful about that," said museum educator Cathy Callaway.

Callaway said she believes the university has taken all the necessary precautions to deal with the contamination in Pickard Hall. MU requires the museum to gain special permission for any intrusive exhibition changes like pounding nails or lifting up carpeting.

"I'm convinced there is no danger to people in the building," said Calloway.

According to Basi, the university will continue monitoring the contamination and follow any stipulations from the NRC. "We know that we can take certain measures to make sure that anyone entering the building is safe," said Basi.

There is no specific timeline for the decomissioning of Pickard Hall.

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