Radioactive-gauge theft report puts peril in focus

Letters

March 24, 2002

The Howard County section of The Sun reported on a stolen radioactive moisture-density gauge ("Radioactive gauge stolen from construction site," March 19). Beside the facts of the current event, the article brings to light an unbelievably negligent attitude about handling radioactive devices.

Issues concerning radioactivity are often discussed without any quantitative measure, making it impossible to distinguish minor mishaps from major concerns. I want to applaud Julie Bykowicz of the Sun's staff for reporting not only the loss of a radioactive device but also giving a few numbers so that the magnitude of the problem could be evaluated.

The article cited a "radioactivity level" of 700 millirems (mrem), most probably meaning a dose rate of 700 mrem/hour at the surface of the device. (One mrem is a unit of dose equivalent, a measure of how much energy is absorbed by the body in the form of ionizing gamma radiation.) For an extended time, anything above 2 mrem/hour is considered unacceptable by NRC regulations. Therefore, the lost device is quite a powerful source of radiation.

It is worrisome that the spokesman for the owner of the device considers this a minor problem. He said that an exposure of 30 rem was needed to suffer any physical reaction. While this is true for immediately visible burns, a fraction of it is already unacceptable due to the increased probability of cancer and inheritable genetic defects. According to NRC regulations, the limit of exposure for radiation workers is 5 rem over an entire year, the average person receives about 0.3 rem per year from natural sources.

Receiving 30 rem over a few days is considered a major accident, 300 rem can already kill a person. If devices capable of causing such damage are regularly stolen in Maryland, the Department of Environment has to look into the matter carefully.

Laszlo Takacs

Baltimore

The writer is a physics professor at University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

Description of hearing called disappointing

I am very disappointed with Tanika White's description of the public hearing on the interim redistricting for Pointer's Run Elementary ("Board urged to shift pupils," March 15).

For the record, 39 of 43 people offering testimony had the following common messages: relieve overcrowding at Pointers Run Elementary; move Gaithers Farm neighborhood to Longfellow Elementary; move all of the Pheasant Ridge Neighborhood, not just a portion of this neighborhood; move all of the open enrolled students out of Clarksville Elementary.

Four other individuals represented the Gaither's Farm neighborhood and were opposed to moving to Longfellow Elementary.

Let's set the record straight now, and stop printing the school district propaganda. School officials are proposing to divide yet another community, and are completely ignoring the High School boundaries set this year. The Pheasant Ridge community also presented a petition with 360 signatures asking that the community not be divided and leave only 34 FTE students behind.

Julie D Wilson

Clarksville

Think `outside the box' on center's renewal

It was great news to learn that Kimco, the new owner of Oakland Mills Village Center, realizes that revitalizing the Oakland Mills Village Center is important to the overall success of the 11 retail centers it purchased from The Rouse Company.

As Kimco sets out in its efforts to renew the village center, I am hopeful that it continues to interact with local leaders and garner their ideas on what can succeed in the Village Center. Although the efforts to attract a Trader Joe's have apparently been unsuccessful, other supermarket chains such as Fresh Fields, which would provide diversity in the county's supermarket mix, should be considered.

The idea of some village leaders to turn the village center into an international food center has great merit. With its existing roster of restaurants, Oakland Mills already boasts a diversity of ethnic foods in one location which is hard to match in the county. Adding to that roster with establishments boasting other unique cuisines would make the center a countywide and metropolitan attraction. Kimco could consider providing incentives for other established restaurants in or close to Howard County to move to Oakland Mills. Those eateries' customer bases would move with the restaurants, and hopefully would boost other business within the center as well.

Now is not the time to be timid to think about the village center's future; indeed, if ever there was a time for "outside the box" thinking, this is it. It's great to learn that Kimco appears sincere in making an effort.

Bill Woodcock

Columbia

Description of Columbia is deemed inaccurate

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