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This Industry Profile Fact Sheet is presented by the EPA Region 3 to assist state, local, and municipal agencies, and private groups in the initial planning and evaluation of sites being considered for remediation, redevelopment or reuse. It is intended to provide a general description of site conditions and contaminants which may be encountered at specific industrial facilities. This fact sheet is presented for informational purposes only, and should not be construed as a federal policy or directive.


Radioactive compounds can be encountered in various industrial/commercial settings. The majority of radiation sites which could be encountered under the Brownfield initiatives may be divided into two primary categories: research/medical facilities and mining/refining operations. Research/medical facilities include research laboratories, universities, x-ray photography facilities, munitions and instrument manufacturing plants, and hospitals. Mining/refining operations include pit and shaft mining locations, ore handling and refining facilities, and tailings piles.


The majority of the mining and refining operations in the United States involve thorium and uranium ores and related compounds. The research/medical fields utilize primarily isotopes of cesium, cobalt, and radium. The munitions industry fabricates spent uranium into dense armor-piercing projectiles.


The half-life is the length of time necessary for one-half of the atoms of a radioactive substance to decay to some other isotope. Many research/medical radioactive materials and wastes are stored on site until the radioisotopes become stabilized through relatively short half-life decay cycles. There is the potential for human and multi-media environmental contamination during these cycles if the radioactive materials are not properly managed.

The three types of ionizing radiation which represent the greatest human health concern at redevelopment sites are alpha, beta, and gamma radiation. Particulate radiation (alpha, beta) are released during the decay cycle and may deposit on almost any surface. This form of radiation contamination can affect soil, surface water, ground water, and air quality as the high energy particles are transported away from the original sources.

Contaminated buildings and the associated demolition debris may be encountered at abandoned or inactive sites. Decontamination and monitoring of these of these materials may be required prior to off-site landfill disposal.


Once radioactive materials are detected, the site should be screened for the radiation types present in the corresponding decay chain. Soil samples may be taken to confirm the activity at areas identified during the site screening from the suspected contaminated areas outward to the suspected clean areas. Once the primary contaminated areas are established, grid monitoring or sampling may be performed to confirm the suspected clean areas. The application of non-intrusive subsurface geophysics should be evaluated to detect underground burial pits, filled lagoons, process lines and underground storage tanks.

On-site and local wells and surface water may be sampled if groundwater is an environmental concern. Installation of monitoring wells or other groundwater sampling techniques should be evaluated if it is necessary to fill data gaps.

Air sampling can be conducted for radon gas or particulate radiation which are decay products of some radioactive materials. Dust sampling can also be conducted to detect radioactive particles which have collected on ledges or other unsuspecting areas.


Gross alpha/beta

Gamma spectroscopy


Radon gas

Specific radio isotopes

Region 3 | Mid-Atlantic Cleanup | Mid-Atlantic Brownfields & Land Revitalization

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