State environmental experts are investigating the possible presence of radioactive depleted uranium at the site of the historic Springfield Armory after the U.S. Army and Nuclear Regulatory Commission said they don't have documents proving that they've removed it, a senior state official said Wednesday.
Solid depleted uranium, which typically causes kidney ailments, coated a round that was added to a larger munition used for military testing and training in the mid- to late 1960s at the site, now home to the Springfield Technical Community College and other facilities, Bureau of Environmental Health Director Suzanne Condon said.
"The coating round itself did not explode, which would have resulted in inhalation of depleted uranium," Condon said.
Depleted uranium becomes more radioactive over time, for up to 1 million years. Still, Condon said "the risk to public health is quite low" because if there were any uranium found it likely would be in chunks, not in a powdery form that could easily be inhaled.
The Springfield Armory began as a major arsenal under George Washington early in the Revolutionary War before becoming one of the two federal armories. During its 174-year operation, it evolved into the Army's main laboratory for the development and testing of new small arms and played a critical role in the military and in industrial history.
That ultimately led to the creation of the Springfield Armory National Historic Site, which is home to one of the world's largest historic firearms collections.
Ten inspectors will conduct radiology tests at the western Massachusetts site Thursday and Friday, Condon said. Instantaneous readings from their portable devices should enable experts to determine whether there is depleted uranium at the location, she said.
The radiology survey will determine whether health and safety issues exist, Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno said.
Authorities announced plans to conduct radiology tests at the site because they didn't want people to panic when they see experts working there, Condon said.
"We want to balance the idea of ensuring public health protection and public safety with the idea of public rights to know," she said.