Kaneohe sandbar deemed safe after radiological testing?

Ahu o Laka, a sandbar in Kaneʻohe Bay, was the site of a fatal Marine Corps helicopter crash in March 2011.  More about that crash can be read here and here.  The crash resulted in the release of fuel and a radioactive substance Strontium 90, which mimics calcium and attacks bones.   However, the Marine Corps did not report the radiological release until documents were revealed by environmental activist Carroll Cox. Another story on the radiological release is here.

According to KHON News, the State of Hawaiʻi conducted a radiological sweep of Ahu o Laka and declared the area “safe” just in time for the long holiday weekend, when boaters converge on the island.

A sweep of the Kaneohe sandbar Friday by six members of the state’s Indoor and Radiological Health Branch turned up no evidence of radiological contamination from a helicopter crash five months ago.

“We got mainly background radiation,” said Jeff Eckerd, IRHB’s program manager.  “We did not get any hits or spikes.”

The testing was ordered Thursday after environmental activist Carroll Cox received information that the CH-53D Sea Stallion helicopter that crashed onto the sandbar March 29, killing one marine and injuring three others, contained an In-flight Blade Inspection System.  Within the device are six half inch pellets that contain 500 microcuries of strontium-90, a radioactive substance known to be harmful if ingested.

“It’s a bone seeker,” explained Eckerd.  “It can get in and possibly cause bone cancer in high quantities.”

The Marineʻs insist that it was not required to report the spill:

Marine Corpse Base Hawaii spokesman Maj. Alan Crouch stressed that the amount of strontium-90 released into the environment as crews removed the helicopter off the sandbar was not a “reportable quantity.”  He said some military personnel were exposed, but at minimal levels.

But the radiological hazard was so severe that the Marines excavated asphalt where a raft was parked after removing the helicopter wreckage:

Due to rigorous standards, officials at Marine Corps Base Hawaii carved out asphalt that came into contact with strontium-90 after a raft used to collect the helicopter’s IBIS system was placed on what’s known as the waterfront ops area.

“As a part of the mitigation, approximately 65 square feet of asphalt was removed from an area where contaminated components were temporarily located and isolated,” said Crouch.  “Thorough inspections were done at all aircraft component locations – both during and after recovery and salvage operations – to confirm there was no remaining contamination.”

William Aila, Chairman of the Department of Land and Natural Resources was not satisfied with the Marine Corps’ response:

However Aila expressed concern DLNR was not immediately notified about the presence of strontium-90 on the downed helicopter, even if it posed no risk to first responders or state conservation officers.

“This is state land, it’s not Marine Corps base land,” said Aila.  “We certainly registered some strong feelings about not being kept in the loop.  We are in some very stern discussions with the Marine Corps base right now and working to ensure that situation doesn’t occur in the future.”


The state Health Department is checking whether the Marine Corps was required to report the release of strontium-90 to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which monitors the use of radiological substances.

“That is what we’re checking with the NRC,” said Eckerd, “to see if an actual notification was submitted to them.”

I’m in agreement with Carroll Cox that we should not accept the state’s testing results:

Cox however is still not satisfied with the military’s response to the release of strontium-90 and is demanding further testing.

“Create an effort to go and address this problem because people can be sickened,” said Cox.  “People can die from this neglect of duty.”


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