REAL HOT PROPERTY
While about half of the Brentwood dump’s waste is made up of irradiated animal carcasses, both the VA and UCLA also burned radioactive trash and animals to get rid of the material. For example, from January 1954 to December 1955, UCLA’s “Burn-All” unit incinerated 3,400 pounds of “rabbits, rats, mice, excreta, peat moss, paper, etc.” contaminated by twelve radionuclides including carbon-14, calcium-45 and chromium-51. Also burned were some to the most dangerous radionuclides, “mixed fission products,” which contains cesium-137 and strontium-90, two especially deadly substances with half-lives of 30.0 years and 29.12 years respectively. The average weight of the combustibles per each of the 286 days of burning was 12 pounds.
“Burning does not eliminate radioactive waste, but it reduces its volume by ashing the original materiel,” according to the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research. “Incineration does not destroy metals or reduce radioactivity of wastes. Radioactive waste incinerators, when equipped with well-maintained, high efficiency filters, can capture all but a small fraction of the radioactive isotopes and metals fed into them. The fraction that does escape, however, tends to be in the form of small particles that are more readily absorbed by living organisms than larger particles.”
UCLA’s radiological crematorium sat outdoors on a wood box and was outfitted with an elongated stack-flue designed to be a couple of feet higher than the building roof it was attached to. “A small sheet metal pan-like cover was hinged to the stack just above the top of the unit to act as a rain protector,” according to 1956 UCLA Atomic Energy Project report. The stack apparently had no filter, according to its specifications, meaning that gases from the incinerated radioactive material simply discharged unfettered into the air.
The UCLA-AEC document noted a range of radioactive gas releases emitting from the stack-flue. The highest reading for “volatile isotopes” measured escaping the chimney was two billion times higher than what Nuclear Regulatory Commission allows today for the same type of radioactive emissions. This nuclear crematorium operated for forty years in UCLA’s Health Science zone of the south campus.
The West LA VA was ordered by the AEC to stop burning radioactive animal carcasses contaminated with carbon-14 in a 1960 memorandum. “Hereafter no C-14 residues at any level will be disposed of except by burial,” the memo read. “This is on advice of Central Office issued at the Cincinnati meeting in December 1960 regarding incineration disposal. This means that at this Center no C-14 will be disposed of by incineration without permission from the AEC, in writing.”
UCLA, however, continued burning radioactive medical trash in the middle of the Westwood campus until 1994. “They had a program to dump ashes at sea for the willed body program,” said Greenwood who put a halt to the incineration. “Medical waste was getting mixed in with that. It became an inappropriate disposal of medical waste. My concern was it couldn’t be operated properly. There were just a lot of issues with having something in the middle of Westwood that had improper controls so we just stopped it. The animal wastes, the carcasses, went to one of the disposal companies down south.”