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Baseline radiation mapping beginning in Seattle and Bellevue

Photo courtesy Washington State Dept of Health
The Bell Helicopter that will perform the aerial survey has radiation detection equipment located in the capsules attached to its sides.

If you see an unusually low-flying helicopter cruising above Seattle or Bellevue, don't worry. It’s just a project of the State Department of Health to measure naturally occurring radiation in King and Pierce Counties.

For two and a half weeks, a special blue and silver Bell helicopter will fly in a grid pattern at about 300 feet off the ground collecting baseline data on levels of gamma rays, which are emitted naturally from soils and are likely to increase in a radiation emergency.

Mark Henry with the state Department of Health’s Radiation Protection Office says this information will be used for direct comparisons in the case of a nuclear incident.

“We want to be able to assure that we can go in there and compare what is there now to what was there before. And that’s what we’re flying the helicopter for.”

He says this very same copter was used in Fukushima, Japan, to measure radiation released after the earthquake and tsunami damaged the Daiichi Nuclear Power Station.

“And as they were doing that – they realized, they did not have a baseline to compare it to. And they really wished they would have.”

Henry said the study has been planned since 2009, but the the situation in Japan has underlined the importance of the project.  The study is funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.  After the baseline data is verified, a report will be made public possibly by the end of this year. 

Bellamy Pailthorp covers the environment beat for KNKX, where she has worked since 1999. From 2000-2012, she covered the business and labor beat. Bellamy has a deep interest in Indigenous affairs and the Salish Sea. She has a masters in journalism from Columbia University.
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