Radiation Released at Manhattan post office

Radiation Released at Manhattan post office
Radiation Released at Manhattan post office

August 30, 2004

A sophisticated imaging machine contaminated a Midtown Manhattan post office with low-level radiation on Sunday and yesterday, exposing a handful of people, forcing the closing of surrounding streets and disrupting mail delivery.  The source of the radiation was a radiography camera, a device somewhat like an X-ray machine, that a contractor was using to find out what was behind walls and ceilings as part of a renovation in the building, which houses the Franklin D. Roosevelt Station on Third Avenue near 55th Street.  A hole in the machine – which works much like a shutter of a standard camera – is supposed to open briefly to create each image, emitting a burst of radiation from a supply of cobalt-60. But on Sunday afternoon, in the building’s basement, the machine became stuck in the open position and remained that way last night as officials prepared to remove it.

Workers were aware of the problem immediately but were unable to close the shutter.   There were about seven people who had some level of exposure. The seven people exposed include employees of the contractor, Test well Laboratories of Ossining, N.Y., and of the Postal Service. People passing by on the sidewalks before they were cordoned off would have also been exposed, but at a much lower level.   In a city on high alert during the Republican National Convention, with memories of the World Trade Center attack, anthrax mailings, smallpox vaccinations and numerous terror warnings, the post office incident added to an already serious case of jitters.  The Police Department closed a block each of Third Avenue, 54th Street and 55th Street to traffic, and rerouted pedestrians who did not live in the area. Postal employees were not allowed into the building and were sent to other post offices.

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