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ASU Joins RadNet

imageAngelo State University has just become the newest member of the RadNet family.

RadNet is a national system of monitoring stations run by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that regularly collect air, precipitation, drinking water and milk samples for analysis of radioactivity.  The ASU station, which will be run by the Physics Department, houses air sampling units and is located in the Facilities Management compound on the east side of campus.

“Basically, it is an aluminum box that fits on a 4-feet-by-4-feet concrete pad,” said Dr. Andy Wallace, head of the Physics Department.  “It has a tube that sticks up and pulls air in for 24 hours, does a count and sends the information to the EPA via satellite.  That information pertains to the radioactive isotopes that are naturally in the environment and/or the ones that you pick up that shouldn’t be there.”

In addition to measuring radioactivity, the ASU station will also offer a major secondary benefit to the citizens of San Angelo.

“The filters, which are changed out twice a week, are sealed and sent back to the EPA lab in Alabama,” Wallace said.  “That is where they look at all the particulate matter and other things that are trapped in the filters.  So, you also get air quality monitoring.”

The ASU station is the 16th RadNet facility in Region 6, which includes Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Louisiana.  It is part of Phase 4 of the RadNet system, an upgrade of the Environmental Radiation Air Monitoring System (ERAMS) that has been in use since the early 1970s.

“We have updated the system,” said George Brozowski, EPA regional health physicist, “so that it is now ‘talking’ to our laboratory in Montgomery, Ala., via satellite, via cell phone and via the Internet.  We are looking to cover the U.S. in all major and minor cities, so that we have a large overview of how much radioactive particulate matter is in the air.”  

“Our station locations are chosen in conjunction with approval through the National Academy of Sciences and the Science Advisory Board,” he added.  “Through different studies and wind tests, results came up that we needed a station in San Angelo.  It was a toss-up between San Angelo and Abilene, and San Angelo won out.”

Of the 16 RadNet stations in Region 6, only three are located on college campuses, including the University of Arkansas, Texas A&M-International and ASU.  Since students will be hired to run the ASU station, they will get valuable hands-on training that would otherwise be unavailable.

“Our students can learn how to work with this equipment, how to take data with it,” Wallace said.  “It contains counting equipment that we do not have in the department, and this is one way to help students get into environmental science careers or into health or medical physics.  It is something they can have on their resumes before they leave here.”

Additionally, the station equipment will also be available for physics, Earth science and chemistry students to use for undergraduate and graduate research projects.

“There are beta and gamma spectrometers that are such high quality, we just don’t have them,” Wallace said.  “They are so expensive that, for us to get them, we would probably have to get an external grant.  So, students will get to use equipment that we otherwise would not have, and that could be a foot in the door when they go to look for jobs.”

Once the ASU station is completely online, local citizens will also be able to access the data it collects via the Internet and keep real-time tabs on local air quality.

“It is just a win-win-win situation,” Wallace said.  “ASU gets to do something for the community, we get a couple of spectrometers that we didn’t have to do student research and Honors projects, and the EPA gets its RadNet station.”

(More information on RadNet can be found online at http://www.epa.gov/narel/radnet/.)