CuBe Plates above Be-Release Limit Found during Cleanup

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Type:  Lessons Learned

Publisher:  Los Alamos National Laboratory, Los Alamos, NM (LANL)


Topics:  Chemical Safety, Occupational Safety and Health, Operations, Waste Management, Work Management/Planning, Material Handling/Storage, Radiation Protection

If you discover unknown/suspect copper (Cu) plates, immediately pause or stop the activity and notify your supervisor and a subject matter expert (SME) to evaluate the item/hazard. In this event, three copper plates were discovered (one that contained copper beryllium) while clearing legacy material from Transportainers. Personnel paused work immediately until verification could be made on the plates by the on-site radiation control technician (RCT). No personnel were exposed to beryllium (Be).

On January 7, 2013, work (planning and approvals) began on a cleanup project to clear legacy material in LANL Technical Area 15. Radiation (RAD)/RCT personnel were on-site due to the history of RAD material in the area and the potential for encountering unknown hazards. The cleanup began the next day with the clearing of legacy material/equipment in an area containing three 20-foot Transportainers. Two of the Transportainers were cleared of material and equipment by the end of the day. On January 9, workers discovered three copper (Cu) plates while removing legacy material from the third Transportainer. The plates looked like Cu and had slight oxidation ("beryillum Copper .035" was handwritten on the plates). The workers immediately paused work. The on-site RCT determined that one plate consisted of copper beryllium, (CuBe).

Analysis of the swipe samples by a chemist revealed that one sample was above the range of the analytical method (1 ug/sample without dilution); indicating that the plate was a beryllium alloy. The other plates were 0.08 ug/100 cm2 and 0.03 ug/100 cm2; indicating low level beryllium on the surface, but not beryllium alloy. The floor area where the plates were located was 0.04 ug/100 cm2 and 0.8 ug/100 cm2. The release limit is 0.2 ug/100 cm2.

- Pre-work planning for activities in areas with possible legacy hazards should cover the potential for suspect and unknown hazards, and what workers should do if hazards are encountered.
- It is advisable that subject matter experts (SMEs) be engaged to brief workers on the proper procedures for dealing with suspected potential hazards when conducting work in areas with possible legacy hazards.
These SMEs should also be involved in pre-job walk downs when work activities are to occur in these areas.
- When work involves a potential for encountering legacy hazards, the hazard analysis should include an examination of previous walk down documentation, and any available lessons learned related to structures and material items in the area. Additional details may be obtained by reviewing the ownership checklist of materials in Transportainers. Documentation from institutional programs that involve walk downs of work areas by managers, such as the LANLs Management Observation and Verification (MOV) program, can be a good source of information for completing the hazard analysis process.
- Laboratory material handlers can help prevent exposures by treating CuBe plate as beryllium, and assuring the material is packaged, labeled, and properly stored.
- Transportainers or other storage facilities with potential Be should be marked appropriately until a definitive determination can be made.

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