Congressional District # 03
H & K SALESEPA ID# MI0001271535
Last Updated: November, 2011
The H&K Sales site is also known as the "Belding Warehouse" site or as one of the "Michigan Radiological" sites. The site is located on Bridge Street in a large warehouse in downtown Belding, Michigan, next to the town library, a set of railroad tracks, and the Flat River. H&K Sales, Inc. had rented space in 1994 in the Belding Warehouse building to store, with the intent to resell, World War II-era aircraft parts that had been purchased at military surplus sales (by others) shortly after the war was over. However, some of the airplane parts (gauges and meters) had originally been painted with small amounts of radium-226, a solid, naturally-occurring radioactive isotope (to cause them to glow in the dark so the gauges could be read during night bombing missions). The radium-226 isotope gives off or emits alpha particle and gamma ray radiation when it decays, which is potentially harmful to human health. Moreover, the radium-226 isotope also decays into radon-222, a gaseous, radioactive isotope and a similar human health threat.
Site ResponsibilityThe site was addressed through federal and state actions.
Threats and Contaminants
The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), in consultation with the state of Michigan, had estimated that H&K Sales, Inc. had stored approximately 160,000 cubic feet of potentially contaminated aircraft gauges, dials, propellers, and other components in the warehouse. EPA estimated that the amount of radium-226 present was in excess of state and federal human health guidelines. EPA also found that the floors and walls of the several large storage areas within the building were contaminated with dust containing radium-226. Additionally, EPA measured some very high radon-222 levels in the atmosphere some parts of the building.
Although EPA found no traces of radium-226 contamination outside of the warehouse, the Agency was concerned that if a fire were to occur at the warehouse before any cleanup actions were completed, the smoke plume from such a fire could have spread radium-226 throughout Belding.
Potential Health Threats
Employees of H&K Sales, Inc. and others using or visiting the warehouse, nearby residents, and trespassers would have run the risk of being exposed to higher than normal background levels of alpha particle and gamma ray radiation due to the natural radioactive decay of the radium-226. Alpha particle radiation is most harmful when the emitting atoms, in this case radium-226 atoms, are inhaled or ingested. The alpha particle radiation harms soft, internal body tissues but does not easily penetrate the skin layer if one is externally exposed to alpha particle radiation. Gamma ray radiation easily penetrates the body so that both internal or external exposure could be harmful. Long term exposure to low levels of excess radiation could cause cancer. Specifically, exposure to radium-226 via ingestion or inhalation could lead to the development of bone cancer.
Exposure to high levels of radon gas was also a potential health threat. Radium-226 decays to Radon-222 (emitting an alpha particle and gamma ray radiation) and Radon-222 further decays, with emission of an alpha particle and gamma ray radiation, to Polonium, which in turn, similarly decays to a stable lead isotope.
Cleanup ProgressEPA began a non-time-critical removal action at the site in January 1997 to abate the immediate threat to public health and the environment from the potential widespread release of and the potential exposure to radium-226. After securing the building and its contents, EPA removed the radiologically-contaminated items and disposed of them in low-level nuclear waste repositories located in the states of Washington and Utah. EPA also released non-impacted materials back to H&K Sales, Inc. or disposed of them in a local landfill, as appropriate.
Next, EPA tested the interior floors and walls of the warehouse after removing the contaminated materials to check whether potentially harmful levels of radium-226 were still present. The floors and walls were then decontaminated as necessary. After cleaning, the floors and walls were retested to ensure that the decontamination step was completed and successful. EPA finished all cleanup actions in October 1997 and released the warehouse building back to the owner for unrestricted use.
EPA issued a final Record of Decision, selecting "No Further Action," in November 1997. The site was deleted from the National Priorities List on May 21, 1998.
Success StoryThe H&K Sales site was "quick-listed" to the National Priorities List (NPL) in 1996 (proposed in late 1995, final in June 1996) because of the potential magnitude of the health threats posed by the radium-226 levels inside the warehouse building. EPA was able to perform a swift, effective and safe cleanup action in 1997 to address the radium-226 levels, both returning the building to productive use and deleting the site from the NPL within a very short amount of time.
EPA held a public meeting in April 1996 to discuss the site and the potential health threats, and present a proposed cleanup plan for public comment. Later, when EPA prepared to begin the cleanup action, EPA representatives met with Belding officials to brief them on our cleanup plans and schedule.
As the cleanup action was nearing completion, EPA held another public meeting in September 1997 to announce the completion of the cleanup and to issue a proposed plan for no further action at the site.
Property ReuseAfter site cleanup, EPA released the warehouse back to the owner for unrestricted use.
ContactsRemedial Project Manager, U.S. EPA
gladys beard (email@example.com)
Community Involvement Coordinator, U.S. EPA
H & K SALES (MICHIGAN RADIOLOGIC)