A group of 31 employees and neighbors are suing the University of Tulsa over a radioactive spill that occurred at TU’s North Campus, located at Marshall and Lewis, in fall of 2014.
14 of these people say they were TU employees at the time of the spill. Attorneys representing the group filed the lawsuit in Tulsa County District Court on October 14.
The lawsuit comes in response to an incident in which Tracerco, a company contracted through TU, spilled a small amount of the radioactive isotope cesium-137 in a building at North Campus sometime during fall 2014.
Tracerco had been performing tests at the request of Chevron Corporation, during which a teaspoon or so of a mixture containing about a miligram of cesium-137 was spilled.
When the spill was brought to authorities’ attention in August 2015, it had been active for nearly a year. During that time, the radioactive material spread throughout the lab building in which the spill had initially occurred.
The university restricted access to the building and called in the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality to investigate. Chase Environmental Group was hired to clean up the spill. 21 people were evaluated for potential exposure to the spill, which involved an initial assessment and medical examination, followed by continued monitoring by a clinician.
Defendants in the suit are TU, Johnson Matthey Incorporated (Tracerco is an oil and gas subsidiary of this company), Chevron Corporation, Chase Environmental Group, China Institute of Atomic Energy and two anonymous corporations (Joe Doe 1 and Joe Doe 2). Chase Environmental Group was hired to clean up the spill, and China Institute of Atomic Energy as well as the two anonymous corporations manufactured the containers used to hold the cesium-137 isotopes.
The suit accuses Tracerco of negligence in handling the material and failing to report the spill to the university and neighbors. Specifically, the plaintiffs allege that Tracerco attempted for nearly a year to cover up the spill at TU’s North Campus.
It also accuses TU of negligence in failing to properly manage Tracerco’s testing. According to the suit, the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality had filed citations and told TU multiple times that its radioactive program was not up to par.
The plaintiffs seek $75,000 for actual, compensatory and punitive damages.
TU filed a suit against Johnson Matthey Inc. in 2016 over the same situation. The university’s suit claims that Tracerco improperly extracted cesium-137 and that this caused the spill. It also claims that the Tracerco employees immediately knew that a significant problem had occurred. According to the university, Tracerco employees had proof that their own instruments were contaminated in May 2015, but failed to notify the university of the contamination until August 2015.
The TU suit also alleges that Tracerco representatives found 25 areas in North Campus that tested positive for cesium-137.
The university seeks actual damages of $75,000 and punitive damages of $500,000. Tracerco released a statement claiming that they were unaware of the leak until August 2015 and that no one at North Campus was exposed to unsafe levels of radiation. Tracerco believes the university’s claims are without merit and plans to challenge them.
TU has declined to speak with any local news sources, saying only that the school does not comment on pending litigation.