Radioactive Rocks

During a recent visit to Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, it was discovered that one of the rocks used in a decorative outdoor rock garden was highly radioactive, reading 5 mR/hr at the surface (background radiation is 0.02 mR/hr). The rock (see photograph) contained high concentration of natural Uranium. The rock was removed and appropriately disposed.

Several years ago, a rock was found in the Geology Department at Morningside that was emitting an even  higher level of radioactivity, exceeding 50 mR/hr at the surface. The history of the old rock was traced back to the Nevada test site for atomic bombs. The rock was immediately removed and disposed as radioactive waste.
Recently published news regarding the potential hazard of granite used in kitchen counter tops has generated concern for some Columbia residents. In response, EH&S visited several apartments and measurements of the granite were as expected and revealed a normal range of activity for this kind of rock (0.04 mR/hr or double background). This minute amount of activity is due to the small amount of natural uranium contained in granite and it does not pose a risk to building occupants.


Radioactive Rock

Environmental Health & Safety Welcomes Two New Staff to our Department:

Neil Mansky joins us as Laboratory Safety Officer at the Medical Center campus. Neil and has a MS in Environmental & Occupational Health from California State University, Northridge and comes to Columbia from UCLA, where he held a lab safety position.
Jeremiah (Jerry) Meehan joins us as a Fire Safety Specialist for all laboratories at the Morningside campus.  Jerry comes to EH&S upon retirement from FDNY after 25 years, most recently with the rank of Captain.

We are delighted to have such well-qualified additions to our staff – please join us in welcoming them to Columbia University.

Eating/drinking in Laboratories…NOT

Columbia University’s laboratory safety policy prohibits eating, drinking, and food storage in laboratories that use Chemical, Biological, Radiological or any other hazardous materials. This policy is based on the potential for food/drink in the laboratory to become contaminated with subsequent ingestion associated with harmful effects. In the case of certain radioactive materials,
trace amounts can cause great harm; therefore all radiation regulatory agencies consider it a major violation if food/drink is found in a laboratory that uses radioactive materials.  Also consider that the effects of certain chemical exposures may be cumulative; ‘small’ unapparent exposures over time could add up until a threshold for adverse effects is reached –
every little bit (or bite) may ultimately hurt.

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