UW Medicine employees might have to wait at least six more weeks to return to work at a First Hill building where a radioactive substance was spilled three weeks ago.
The UW Medicine Harborview Medical Center Research & Training Building houses 35 labs for research on infectious diseases and other global-health issues. Over the next seven to 10 days, about 200 researchers and staff are moving into other UW Medicine and University of Washington facilities and will remain there until the building reopens.
Meanwhile, the public is not in danger, said UW Medicine spokesperson Susan Gregg, who could give no firm date for how long the cleanup will take.
On the evening of May 2, a device called an irradiator, containing the radioactive material cesium-137, was being moved to a safe disposal site when the substance spilled. Radiation was detected on the loading dock of the building, which is at Ninth Avenue and Alder Street.
Thirteen people were exposed, 10 of whom were admitted to Harborview’s emergency room and discharged the next day.
An investigation of the spill by the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration is expected to take several months, said Kate Lynch, a spokesperson with Washington state Department of Health, which is working with the federal agency and UW on the cleanup.
Contractors hired by the Department of Energy are doing “survey and decontamination work on certain floors of the building” while other parts of the remediation plan are still being worked out, Gregg said.
The costs of remediation and of the building closure aren’t yet known.
Lab animals haven’t been affected by radiation and have been repeatedly checked since the spill, Gregg said. The animals are being moved to the Animal Research & Care Facility on UW’s Seattle campus.
Irradiators are used in research settings to help perform tasks such as exposing samples to gamma radiation, sterilizing medical supplies and stying the effects of radiation. The irradiator at the Research & Training Building was being decommissioned.