Employees Sue University Of Tulsa Over Radioactive Spill

Tuesday, October 18th 2016, 4:18 pm
By: News On 6

A group of employees and neighbors is suing the University of Tulsa and others for a radioactive spill that happened in 2014.

The spill happened at the north campus which is located at Marshall and North Lewis Avenue.

Attorneys representing a group of 31 employees and neighbors filed the lawsuit in Tulsa County District Court on Friday, October 14, 2016.

Also named as defendants in the lawsuit are Johnson Matthey Incorporated -- which does business as Tracerco -- as well as Chevron Corporation, Chase Environmental Group, China Institute of Atomic Energy and two corporations listed as John Doe 1 and John Doe 2.

According to the suit, Tracerco was performing tests at the request of Chevron Corporation using Cesium 137 at the campus during the week of October 13, 2014. The lawsuit says some of the highly radioactive Cesium 137 was spilled, contaminating parts of TU's north campus and the surrounding neighborhood.

Chase Environmental was hired to clean up the contamination, the suit says. China Institute of Atomic Energy and the two unnamed corporations manufactured the container which held the Cesium 137 Tracerco used during the tests, the lawsuit contends.

The lawsuit accuses Tracerco of negligence in its handling of the element, and also contends the company didn't warn the University of Tulsa and surrounding residents about the spill.

Tracerco didn't inform anyone of the spill until August of 2015, according to the plaintiffs. They also accuse the university of negligence for its management of the testing conducted by Tracerco.

The lawsuit seeks in excess of $75,000 for actual, compensatory and punitive damages.

A spokesperson for the University of Tulsa said the university can't comment on pending litigation.

In a separate action, the University of Tulsa filed a federal suit against Johnson Matthey in February of 2016 over the same situation. TU's lawsuit says it hired Tracerco to use Barium 137 to perform flow loop tests to simulate the fluid flow in an oil well. Barium 137 is produced by the radioactive decay of Cesium 137.

TU's suit claims Tracerco employees, in October of 2014, improperly extracted Barium 137 inside a building at TU's north campus, instead of outside at the flow loop site, when a leak occurred. 

According to the lawsuit, the Tracerco employees knew immediately that there had been a significant problem. However, the suit claims Tracerco didn't notify TU. The university's suit contends Tracerco discovered its own equipment was contaminated by Cesium 137 in May of 2015, but didn't notify TU until August 25, 2015.

In its lawsuit the university says upon learning of the spill it immediately restricted access to the north campus, identified potentially exposed employees, students and others, provided appropriate medical evaluations and then began decontaminating the north campus.

The university says Tracerco hired Chase Environmental do decontaminate the north campus. However, the lawsuit claims TU found contamination at the north campus after Chase Environmental finished its work. 

According to its lawsuit, TU says its president met with a representative of Tracerco in September of 2015 who said Tracerco accepted all responsibility for the spill. 

TU is asking for actual damages of $75,000 and punitive damages of at least $500,000. 

Tracerco released the following statement about the lawsuit:

"Tracerco believes the claims are without merit and expects to defend the litigation vigorously.  There was a small release in the fall of 2014, but we did not learn about this or the resulting contamination in a restricted-use building on TU’s research campus until late August 2015.  When we did, we acted immediately by notifying TU and state regulators, and hiring experts to perform a thorough cleanup.  Most important, extensive testing confirms that no one was exposed to radiation above the levels that state and federal regulators have determined to be safe."