Kitty litter can do a lot of things. It can be used to soak up spills, prevent you from slipping on snow and ice or even act as a deodorizer. But could it cause a radiation leak? The answer is yes, but not on purpose. Kitty litter is very absorbent and is used as an absorbent for liquid contained in radiological debris that is being sent to waste plants.
Recently, a small radiation leak at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico caused 21 employees at the plant to become ill. Investigators determined that a chemical reaction must have occurred to cause enough heat to melt the seals on the drums that contained the radioactive waste.
Investigators have not officially blamed kitty litter for the leak, but say that it is a likely source and is being considered.
According to Jim Blankenhorn, deputy manager with the contractor running WIPP, “a change in the materials used at Los Alamos to package waste may have triggered a reaction between nitrate salts and organic matter.”
Los Alamos, a leading U.S. nuclear weapons lab discarded the waste that leaked and injured the workers. They have since changed their materials again and the WIPP stopped shipments of that waste to a Texas-based commercial storage facility so that more people do not become ill if the other barrels leak.
The leak has caused the plant to shut down for at least 18 months and it could be up to 3 years before it can be opened up again. The plant specializes in permanently disposing of contaminated items like clothing and equipment from nuclear facilities.
The leak occurred in February, but investigators have been trying to determine the cause of the leak and the severity of the radiation ever since. The accident is the worst to occur at the WIPP since it opened in 1999. Until this leak, the facility had an amazing safety record.
Do you think kitty litter could have really caused the radiation leak?
Image via Wikimedia Commons