Thursday, March 31, 2011
Do you ever wonder where they store those suitcase bombs they are going to spring on us someday?
Anti-terrorism officials conducted a helicopter survey of
New York City's radiation sources in preparation for a so-called "dirty
bomb" attack - and discovered a Staten Island park with dangerously high
levels of radium, a new report found.
Federal authorities found 80 unexpected "hot spots" around New York
City, according to the Government Accountability Office, the
investigative arm of Congress.
The GAO report released Thursday details a previously undisclosed aerial
anti-terrorism program in New York City, one which may be extended to
other cities worried about the possible release of radioactive material
The report does not identify which city park had the contaminated soil,
but NYPD officials said it was in Gateway National Park in Staten
Island. The site was closed, and New York has requested federal money to
do a citywide aerial survey every year to update the information.
By creating a map of the city's radiation sources, city officials hope
to be able to respond more quickly in the event of a dirty bomb attack,
know exactly which streets are contaminated and get civilians away.
New York is the first and only U.S. city to conduct a complete aerial
radiological survey, having paid the U.S. Department of Energy $800,000
for the 2005 study.
The helicopters picked up sources of low-level radiation from expected
places, like granite statues and medical isotopes at hospitals, but it
also found dozens of other sources of unexpected radioactivity, the GAO
"NYPD officials indicated that the survey was tremendously valuable
because it identified more than 80 locations with radiological sources
that required further investigation to determine their risk," the report
At the Staten Island park, sensors detected large quantities of radium
in the soil. Long-term exposure to radium increases the risk of
developing lymphoma, bone cancer and leukemia.
National Park Service spokesman Brian Feeney said the area is a one-acre
piece of the 570-acre Great Kills Park, which is part of the larger
Feeney said experts assured them after the August 2005 study that the
area posed no public health risk, and said visitors do not go into that
area anyway because of dense vegetation. He did not know if any warnings
had been placed around the site.
The radiation apparently comes from "some piece of industrial equipment,
pieces of old rusty metal. Whatever this equipment used to do, it picked
up radioactivity," he said.
"We keep people out of that area. It's a non-accessible area of the
park, no one can get in there," said Feeney. "There's no health hazard
now, there was never a health hazard to the public."
He said the agency has applied to the Department of Energy for funding
to further survey the site.
Staten Island's congressman, Rep. Vito Fossella, said the contamination
was a surprise to him and residents near the park, and he demanded more
"It is essential for the government to act immediately to fully
understand the extent of the contamination," said Fossella, who was
trying to arrange a meeting Friday with federal and city officials to
discuss further testing and possible removal of the contaminated soil.
One alleged radiation hot spot on Manhattan's east side has the
potential for becoming a political hot spot: A strong radiation spike
from the area of the Israeli Embassy. Officials would not comment on why
they thought that particular area allegedly showed such a stunning peak
The aerial survey is designed to help local officials react more quickly
in the event of terrorists detonating a "dirty bomb" that releases
radioactive material into the air. With the survey, police may be able
to pinpoint the exact source of radiation by comparing new readings to
their pre-existing "radiation map" of the area.
NYPD spokesman Paul Browne said the department wanted a record of the
city's naturally occurring and other "radiological signatures" to
compare with periodic readings it does to detect for dirty bombs or
other nuclear devices.
"It gives us a baseline so we can pick up any anomalies," he said.
New York City is the only major city to conduct a full-scale Aerial
Background Radiation Survey to identify "hot spots," though such work
has been done in the nation's capitol, according to the report.
The GAO found neither the Department of Energy nor the Department of
Homeland Security believe they are required to conduct such radiation
mapping, though the investigators said there were "significant benefits"
to surveys in other urban areas.
Homeland Security officials agreed that they should study the cost and
effectiveness of expanded radiation mapping in additional cities.
Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., called the report further proof the
federal government is not doing enough to help cities guard against
The hot spot mapping initiative "should also be shared with cities
across the country, not mothballed because the Homeland Security
Department doesn't want to put up the money," Schumer said.
The GAO report also found the Department of Energy may need to beef up
security at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada and Andrews Air Force Base
in Maryland because those sites hold key national assets for responding
to a radiological or nuclear attack.
Specialized quick-response teams and equipment are concentrated at those
two sites, and a successful attack against either could leave one
section of the country with limited capacity to respond to a subsequent
strike with radioactive weapons, the GAO said.
The agency's associate administrator, Michael C. Kane, was adamant the
sites are safe.
"We categorically reject the contention that physical security at two of
our facilities may not be sufficient for protecting against terrorist
attacks," Kane wrote.