Officials: Radioactive material found on U of M campus no threat

(WMC-TV) – The mention of radioactivity on the University of Memphis campus Wednesday alarmed many students, but environmental health directors said there was no real threat to public safety.

"That does kind of bother me that radioactivity was here," said student Josh Piyavunno.

University of Memphis students learned from the campus newspaper, The Daily Helmsman, that radioactive material had been detected in a scrap metal dumpster.

Group Director Daniel Strechay with Sims Metal Management said their company scanned the bin as protocol and first detected the radioactivity on April 5.  University of Memphis Director of Environmental Health and Safety Alton Simpson then contacted the state.

"We found one small spot on the dumpster that had a slightly elevated reading," said Allen Grewe with the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation.

Grewe said a type of door hinge produced the radioactive background.

Students who walk nearby daily said they had no idea that radioactive material had been detected.

"I was a little upset when I first heard it, because I walk through here probably five times a week," said Piyavunno.

"It is kind of creepy that this is the first time I'm hearing about it at all," said student Kayla Funderburk.

Grewe said the radioactivity readings were significantly small.  On a scale of one to 10, Grewe said the health threat was "a one, probably."

Simpson said students were not notified by Tiger text or e-mail because the situation was not deemed an emergency.

On April 12, a hazmat crew removed the dumpster located near the journalism building.  Some students said this incident may warrant further monitoring.

"It makes me think that they need to check on other areas of the campus to see if anything else is wrong, because we have other spots on campus that are really old that they may need to check on," said Piyavunno.

The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation said there is no charge for there services.  However, Simpson said the cost to remove the radioactive waste through a contractor will cost the university around $1,000.

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