An estimated 300 million shipments of hazardous materials are made in the United States each year.
By PAUL WHEATLEY
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- Emergency management officials estimate an accident involving radioactive waste could contaminate an area as large as a five-mile radius.
A train transfer of radioactive waste, handled by the Department of Energy, is planned to travel through Lowellville, Struthers, Campbell and part of Youngstown and exit into Trumbull County.
Few will know the exact date the radioactive transfers occur, but hospital and government planners say Mahoning County is well trained and equipped to deal with most any hazardous spill.
Walter Duzzny, director of the Mahoning County Emergency Management Agency, said his office will be notified of the transfer.
Satellite monitoring: He said waste-filled casks weighing up to 120 tons will be monitored by satellite, causing little concern of theft by terrorists. Besides, Duzzny said, the Mahoning Valley doesn't have the technology to process radioactive materials into weapons.
His main concern is how well the rails handle the casks' weight.
About 50 public safety officials from around the county met in Campbell last May for a toxic spill drill. The scenario included the derailment of a 50-car train carrying chlorine.
What if something does happen? The county's emergency protocol regarding any hazardous material spill has two goals: Identification and isolation. Patients would be decontaminated on-scene to prevent contamination of other people or places.
John Hughes, an EMS coordinator with St. Elizabeth Health Center, said his hospital's decontamination room would be a final wash down spot for victims.
The facility takes patients through three stages. Hughes calls them "dirty," "clean" and "treatment."
Decontamination: The first stop is decontamination, in a small room with bare, drab gray walls and a green plastic shower head. Hospital officials would be on-hand, equipped with everything from protective suits and special radiation solvents to simple scrub brushes and bleach.
A drain in the center of the floor carries contaminants to a holding tank in the building's bowels. An environmental cleanup company then collects the waste for testing or disposal.
"When you're decontaminated, you're naked to the world," said Hughes.
Patients would be moved to an adjoining room for fresh clothing -- the contaminated clothes would be disposed. Then patients are transferred for treatment in the main hospital.
Meanwhile, Hughes said, the Mahoning County commissioners meeting room would be transformed into a command center complete with amateur radio.
Officials caution against much excitement over the upcoming shipment, since it isn't the first time hazardous materials have come through the Valley. Duzzny said about 300 million hazardous shipments are made in the U.S. each year and estimates 10 percent of those travel through here.
"If we had a wish list, we'd wish a lot of other materials would be shipped in these casks," he said.