Radiation found in basement of MU art museum

COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — The University of Missouri is asking a federal agency for more time to clean up radiation in a former chemistry building that now houses a museum.

Environmental inspectors removed radioactive material from the basement and attic of Pickard Hall but contamination from years ago remains in pipes and air ducts, the Columbia Daily Tribune reported. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission requires such contaminated buildings to be cleaned within two years.

The building on Francis Quadrangle is now home to the Museum of Art and Archaeology and is on the National Register of Historic Places.

The university wants the NRC to indefinitely extend its cleanup timeline. The agency scheduled a public hearing Thursday night on campus to discuss that request.

“To relocate a museum is not a trivial undertaking,” said Peter Ashbrook, the school’s environmental health and safety director. “There are artifacts there that are priceless and must be handled carefully. You can’t just hire movers off the street to move this stuff.”

Pickard Hall was built in 1892. By the early part of the 20th century, chemistry professor Herman Schlundt was extracting radioactive materials from natural ores. That’s believed to be the source of the radiation still in the building. Ashbrook said the university has been aware of the contamination in the building for decades. More stringent cleanup rules went into effect in 2005.

“Our office had monitored the building before to see where some of these things had accumulated,” he said. “Where we found higher accumulations, we took steps to remove it or provide shielding to protect the public. When the NRC rules came into effect, we hired an outside contractor to do a much more thorough characterization of where all this stuff is.”

Ashbrook’s office removed contaminated soil from a nearby steam tunnel and from dirt near the building’s gutters. Signs in the basement and attic warn visitors to contact the environmental health office before entering.

The NRC said in a written statement that it “believes the building is safe for use by the staff, students and public.”

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