An unusual package containing radioactive material aboard a Washington state passenger ferry has drawn concern.
A private nuclear testing facility in the Tri-Cities is shipping it from Anacortes to Friday Harbor on August 20. Once there, government border security workers will use it to help make sure their equipment for detecting hazardous threats is accurate.
“When someone mentions radioactive, you imagine all sorts of really bad things,” said Ed Sutton, a former San Juan Ferry Advisory Committee member.
Neither ferry workers nor the public know about it, which a KING 5 source says could be dangerous during an emergency.
“My first reaction was I knew this was one of our prohibited items. Usually if you need to transport something prohibited you charter a boat. It also seems scary to me that there will be no signs or placards. The public has a right to know what’s being transported on the boats. I say that as a passenger too. My wife, kids and friends ride these boats. It’s a public system and nothing should be secretive,” said a veteran ferry worker.
Both the ferry system and the private testing facility say the material is perfectly safe on the passenger ferry.
Internal emails obtained by KING 5, written by a manager to ferry captains, explain: “It’s a small amount of radiation that’s equivalent to a single dental x-ray.”
The memo also states that it’s in accordance to federal law.
But other emails also obtained by KING 5 shows the contents of the package were supposed to be kept confidential. An executive from the testing facility writes: “There are no placards. The package will be secured within a closed vehicle and at no time will be visible to any members of the public.”
Even though the material is considered safe, steps have been taken to allow it to be put onboard without any type of warning, which ferry officials say is within federal guidelines.
Still, ferry workers worry if there’s some sort of accident like a fire, the ferry system isn’t prepared.
“We don’t have the equipment to fight any kind of fire that isn’t basic. I’ve worked there many years and I’ve never been trained to fight a fire that has poisonous gas or radioactive material. We wouldn’t know what to do,” said the veteran worker.
“If they’re not trained to handle something unusual, it would seem like that’s a real shortfall,” said Sutton.
While Sutton doesn’t believe the issue is something to worry about, he calls for more transparency.
“It would just be logical that the people that are responsible for the safety of the folks on the boat should be aware of it and trained for it,” he said.
Marta Coursey, Director of Communications for the WSDOT Ferries Division, says ferries have transported radioactive material once a year since 2009 without any incidents.
According to Coursey, all fleet and terminal employees know what to do during emergencies, but specific incidents involving radioactive material were not mentioned.