FAQs: Residual Contamination

Residual Contamination

Radioactive material or beryllium that remains at a facility after activities related to nuclear weapons production has stopped.

NIOSH will complete a dose reconstruction based on the amount and type of radioactive materials present during the period of residual contamination. The Department of Labor (DOL) will make determinations relative to beryllium.

NIOSH defines significant contamination as contamination in excess of those found in current occupational radiation protection, surface contamination values.

NIOSH evaluated AWE/DOE facilities and beryllium vendors that processed materials in support of nuclear weapons production for potential residual radioactive or beryllium contamination. You can look up the facility in the Residual Contamination Report located on our website on the General Activities on AWE Cases page to see if there was a potential for residual contamination at that facility.

If NIOSH determined that residual contamination existed at your work site during your employment, exposure levels will be included in your dose reconstruction. However, please keep in mind that exposures from residual contamination will likely be low. The highest exposure to radioactive material occurs during the actual handling and processing of radioactive materials.

NIOSH will review the dose reconstructions to see if exposure from residual contamination is likely to result in a significant increase of probability of causation. If it does, NIOSH will re-work the dose reconstruction to include that information. NIOSH has already included the dose from residual radioactive contamination in most cases.

The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2002 (Pub. L. 107-107; Section 3151(b)) required that NIOSH submit, with the cooperation of the Department of Labor and Department of Energy, a report on whether or not significant contamination remained in any atomic weapons employer facility or facility of a beryllium vendor after the facility discontinued nuclear weapon production activities.

NIOSH issued the original report, “Report on Residual Radioactive and Beryllium Contamination at Atomic Weapons Employer Facilities and Beryllium Vendor Facilities,” in November 2002 and updated the report in October 2003. The Ronald W. Reagan National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2005 (Pub. L. 108-375; Section 3169) required that NIOSH submit an additional update to the report in December 2006. The report was updated again by NIOSH in October 2009 and August 2011.

The Residual Contamination Report is located on the Residual Contamination page of our website.

DOE provided NIOSH a list of all facilities to be included in the evaluation. The list included all facilities DOE identified as covered facilities under The Act.

A listing of these facilities can be found in the Residual Contamination Report located on our website on the Residual Contamination page.

A full list of covered facilities can be found on DOE’s WebsiteExternal.

DOL is responsible for determining actual periods of covered employment based upon DOE’s findings as well as information from claimants and other sources. DOE provides worker and facility records and data to DOL to help in their decision-making and in support of the administration of The Act. In determining these periods, DOE applies the definitions of The Act to the known facts about the time and conditions of weapons-related processing at each facility. Keep in mind, periods of covered employment can change if additional information becomes available demonstrating that weapons-related processing was conducted outside of the current covered period.

NIOSH reviewed all AWE and Beryllium Vendor facilities that were posted on the DOE Office of Health, Safety and Security Website. NIOSH evaluated information that had been identified since the last report. Findings were also based on the information posted on the DOE Office of Health, Safety and Security Website as of October 31, 2008 (changes made to this website after this date are not reflected in the October 2009 report).

This study consisted primarily of an evaluation of documents pertaining to AWEs. These include documents compiled by DOE ES&H, documents obtained through NIOSH data capture efforts, interviews with current and past employees, and documents located on the Formerly Utilized Sites Remedial Action Program (FUSRAP) and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Websites. NIOSH also requested documents from state and local authorities. In all cases, the individual facility finding is based on the available information. The finding on any single facility was based on the quantity and completeness of the information available regarding that facility and professional judgment as necessary.

Examples of documentation reviewed included, but were not limited to:

  • Radiological surveys
  • Production operations descriptions
  • Contractual agreements
  • Interoffice correspondence
  • Interviews with current and past employees

In the case of residual radioactive contamination, if limited or no documentation was available, NIOSH made a professional judgment about the level of residual contamination. If NIOSH determined there was “potential for significant contamination”, then it was determined that the contamination “could have caused or substantially contributed to the cancer of a covered employee.” This determination does not imply or guarantee compensation under The Act.

In the case of residual beryllium contamination, if there was no evidence that the beryllium areas had been decontaminated, it was determined that this material could have caused or substantially contributed to the beryllium illness of an employee. Because beryllium sensitization can occur at very low levels of exposure, the level of residual beryllium contamination remaining was not included in the determination.

Facilities having “significant contamination” had quantities of radioactive material that “could have caused or substantially contributed to the cancer of a covered employee”. Therefore, if a facility was determined to have significant contamination, NIOSH also determined that the residual contamination could have caused or substantially contributed to the cancer of a covered employee. Dose reconstructions will be completed to determine the probability of causation.

NIOSH determined that beryllium “could have caused or substantially contributed to the beryllium illness of a covered employee” if there was no documented evidence that the beryllium areas were decontaminated because beryllium sensitization can occur from very low exposure.

NIOSH assumed that the residual contamination was present and the end date for contamination was determined as follows:

  • If the building(s) in which nuclear weapons-related activities occurred has been demolished, then the end date will be the date of demolition.
  • If the building(s) in which nuclear weapons-related activities occurred has not been demolished, then the end date will be listed as “present” (defined as the date the last Residual Contamination Report was updated).

When residual contamination is indistinguishable from non-weapons related radioactive material, NIOSH assumed that the contamination was a result of DOE weapons production activities and determined that the potential for significant residual contamination existed outside of the periods when weapons-related production occurred. However, exact dates cannot always be identified.

When the National Defense Authorization Act of 2002 was passed, NIOSH had not completed DOE dose reconstructions that addressed non-DOE related exposure.

Yes. If NIOSH determines that non-DOE related exposure is present at an AWE facility, then those cases will be evaluated to determine the effect that this additional dose may have on the assigned dose. NIOSH will provide written notification to DOL for those cases determined to have significant increased dose.

Individual results for the 203 AWEs evaluated are as follows:

  • 2 of the previously listed AWE facilities are no longer listed as AWEs. The remaining 201 facilities were evaluated.
  • 98 of the 201 AWE facilities have little potential for significant residual contamination outside of the periods in which weapons-related production occurred.
  • 103 of the 201 AWE facilities have the potential for significant residual contamination outside of the periods in which weapons-related production occurred.

Changes in AWE facilities since the last revision of this report:

  • The end dates of residual contamination periods for 40 of the AWEs were listed as “present” in the previous revision of this report. Because that revision was issued in October, 2009, “present” was defined as October 2009. These 40 facilities still have end dates of residual contamination periods listed as “present” in this version of the report. Therefore, these end dates will be extended to March 1, 2011.
  • The covered operational periods of 8 of the AWEs were modified by DOE. These sites are:
    • Blockson Chemical Co., Joliet, IL (1951 – June 1960)
    • Carborundum Company, Niagara Falls, NY (1943-1944; 1959-1967)
    • Revere Copper and Brass, Detroit, MI (1943-1954)
    • Simonds Saw and Steel Company, Lockport, NY (1948-1957)
    • Texas City Chemicals, Inc., Texas City, TX (October 5, 1953 – September 1955)
    • Vitro Manufacturing Company, Canonsburg, PA (1942-1959)
    • Wah Chang, Albany, OR (1971-1972)
    • Westinghouse Electric Corp., Bloomfield, NJ (1942 -1949)
  • Two of the facilities previously listed as AWEs are no longer listed as such. These facilities are:
    • Painesville Site, Painesville, OH (No longer listed as a covered facility)
    • St. Louis Airport Storage Site, St. Louis, MO (No longer listed as an AWE. It is listed as Department of Energy facility only)

Individual results for the 75 Beryllium Vendor facilities evaluated are as follows:

  • Blockson Chemical Co., Joliet, IL (1951 – June 1960)
  • Carborundum Company, Niagara Falls, NY (1943-1944; 1959-1967)

Changes in Beryllium Vendor facilities since the last revision of this report:

  • The covered operational period of one of the Beryllium Vendor facilities was changed. The previous covered period was 1971 – 2005. The current covered period is 1971 – 2009.

NIOSH concluded that:

  • Some AWE facilities and beryllium vendor facilities have the potential for significant residual radiological and beryllium contamination outside of the periods in which weapons-related production occurred.
  • For the purposes of this report, NIOSH believes that for facilities having “significant contamination” it is at least as likely as not that such contamination could have caused an employee who was employed at such facility only during the residual contamination period to contract a cancer or beryllium illness.
  • The documents reviewed did not indicate the existence of a current, unrecognized occupational or public health threat.

If you have any additional questions, please contact us at 513-533-6800 (toll-free at 1-877-222-7570) or by email at dcas@cdc.gov or ocas@cdc.gov.

Page last reviewed: September 28, 2015