Radiation experts: No immediate danger at Fort Bliss

Updated: Tuesday, July 16 2013, 09:40 PM MDT
Radiation experts: No immediate danger at Fort Bliss story image

By: Bill Melugin

FORT BLISS, Texas --Local radiation experts said they aren't very concerned about the types and amounts of radiation found at Fort Bliss.

KFOX14 spoke with Dr. Arvin Robinson, chairman of radiology at Texas Tech University, and civil engineering professor John Walton of University of Texas, El Paso.

When the public hears the word radiation, many correlate it with cancer, skin burns, or deformities, but Robinson and Walton both agree, the chance of those being issues at Fort Bliss is next to zero.

The reasons? Alpha and beta radiation were reportedly found on post.

"Apparently they're finding alpha and beta there, which would be consistent with nuclear weapons because that's what you get from plutonium and uranium," Walton said.

"Alpha rays are extremely low levels of radiation, it's stopped by paper, beta rays are easily contained," said Robinson. "Personally, I would be more concerned outside of that bunker than I would be inside the bunker, because of the natural radiation from the sun and air altitude, just the normal environment radiation."

"It's not going to be an immediate health threat to the people of El Paso, it's been there apparently since the '50s or '60s so this has been with us a long time," said Walton. "The alpha radiation is a helium nucleus. It's big and massive, and what happens is, it will be stopped by your skin, or your clothing, so it doesn't penetrate very far. Beta is electron, it'll move through maybe your skin but not much further."

Radiation cannot be seen, smelled, or felt, and both Robinson and Walton told KFOX14 there aren't any noticeable symptoms of exposure to radiation unless its a very severe case.

"In severe cases, with a lot of exposure you might notice a burn or something like that, but that's nowhere near what they're talking about here," Robinson said.
Walter told KFOX14 the health risks are much different if the radiation is somehow ingested, and said it's a mistake if people feel alpha and beta rays are less dangerous than gamma rays.

"In terms of how dangerous they are it's a little but complicated, gamma radiation, people are more scared of because you can't stop it very easily, but alpha radiation actually does more damage," Walton said. "If you get alpha radiation in your lungs, by say inhaling it or breathing it in, it's the most toxic form of radiation. If you have some plutonium from a nuclear bomb, and you put it in a Ziploc bag, I could hold it in my hand and it wouldn't do much damage. If I were to take it out of that Ziploc bag, and pulverize it or burn it, and breathe it in, it's one of the most toxic substances known to man."

Walton also noted we encounter radiation in the environment every day, and believes the radiation at Fort Bliss won't reach groundwater anytime soon.

"We're exposed to more radiation in El Paso because we're at higher elevation, we get more cosmic radiation, we're exposed to radiation every time we get on an airplane," Walton said. "If it remains buried, eventually it will reach ground water, but if it is plutonium and uranium, which I'm guessing because of nuclear weapons, then it takes thousands of years to get down there, it will get down there, but not in our lifetimes."

"I think the military is on top of it, and I think they're being proactive in making their announcement, I would be really surprised if they found much more than what they have right now," said Robinson.

Radiation experts: No immediate danger at Fort Bliss
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