No dangerous radiation found at Sandbar

By Brooks Baehr - bio | email

KANEOHE (HawaiiNewsNow) - Specialists from the state Department of Health's Radiological Response Team found only background radiation at the sandbar in Kaneohe Bay Friday. The state used Geiger counters to test the site after concern was raised about possible contamination from a U.S. Marine Corps helicopter that crashed on the sandbar on March 29, 2011.

The CH 53D Sea Stallion helicopter was equipped with six In-Flight Blade Inspection System (IBIS) devices, one on each rotor blade. The Marine Corps told Hawaii News Now one of the IBIS devices was compromised in the crash and very low levels of Strontium 90, a radioactive isotope, contaminated some aircraft parts. The Corps said Friday at no time was there a health or environmental concern.

The state decided to check for itself.

"The team from the Department of Health is going to walk out to the approximate site of the crash and then see if they can take any readings," said William Aila, Director of the state Department of Land and Natural Resources.

The Marine Corps did not notify the state Department of Health or the DLNR about radiation contamination because, according to the Corps, the radiation was "not at a level to require notification."

That explanation did not sit well with environmental watchdog Carroll Cox, and when he learned there was radiation in the wreckage in March, he contacted the state asking for a full investigation.

"Somebody made an allegation. We have to follow up on that allegation. It's going to be a big weekend out here and we want to do the best we can to make sure the site is as safe for people as we can," Aila explained.

While the response team combed the sandbar with Geiger counters, boaters who had seen reports of possible contamination on television expressed little concern.

"It doesn't hurt to check just to be on the safe side, why not, but that said I don't suspect they are going to find major levels of anything out here," said John Smith, a Makiki resident who goes to the sandbar on a regular basis.

The Geiger counters chirped a bit as the team neared the crash site, but they detected nothing more than background radiation - - which is normal.

"We did not get any hits or spikes - nothing unusual. We do background radiation checks before coming out to the site and all we got was background radiation," said Jeff Eckerd, who led the Radiological Response Team.

The clean bill of health means the sandbar will remain open. But Cox is still upset with the Marine Corps and civilians who knew about the radiation for not disclosing the possibility of contamination immediately after the crash.

"I will be filing a complaint with the nuclear regulatory commission because it was improperly handled and it had nothing to do with strategies or warfare of anything. It had to do with poor and neglecting the public's right to know," Cox said.

The Marine Corps told Hawaii News Now it removed and properly disposed of about 65 square feet of asphalt from a location on Marine Corps Base Hawaii because it was contaminated by Strontium 90 during the clean-up. The Corps maintains the public was never in danger and no-one involved in the clean-up was exposed to more radiation than they would get from two chest x-rays.

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