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State health department workers testing for radium on former Northfield Village farm site

by Mike Lesko | Reporter Published: October 19, 2016 5:31 PM
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Northfield Village — A 100-year-old experiment on the use of radium as a fertilizer has survey crews checking for soil contamination in the southeast corner of the village.
The Ohio Department of Health is testing a 135-acre former farm at the southeast corner of Northfield Road and North Plaza Drive in Northfield Village to determine if any radium remains on the property. The area includes much of the village's southeast quadrant and includes Milford, Coventry, Cambridge and Cranbrook drives.
The former farm is a combination of residential and commercial land and includes 371 individual property owners that have received notification from the Ohio Department of Health that testing will be done, according to ODH spokesman Russ Kennedy.
The radiological surveying of the property and analysis of the results will be completed “within the next several days,” Kennedy said Wednesday.
The Federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission notified the ODH that radium, “which was commonly used in manufacturing, industrial and other applications prior to the 1960s, may have been used on a former farm property in Northfield more than a century ago,” according to an ODH press release.
“As part of standard operating procedure, and out of an abundance of caution, ODH will conduct a survey of the area to test for radium,” the press release stated. “Property owners and the local health department have been notified that we’ll be doing the survey, and results will be shared with them when completed.”
The press release stated the NRC has been working on the project for three years.
“Beginning in 2013, the NRC launched a project to review old newspaper articles, magazines and advertisements up to 100 years old to identify numerous sites across the country where radium may have been used in manufacturing and industrial applications as well as for other purposes perhaps decades ago — or, as in this case in Northfield, more than 100 years ago,” the press release stated. “That is how the NRC identified this former farm property as one of these sites.”
At least two articles detailing the contamination were written by H.H. Rusby, M.D., of Columbia University, in 1914.
One of articles available online is from the monthly journal, “Radium.” In it, Rusby details his research into the use of depleted radium ore on plant growth and crop production.
“Perhaps the most important effect of the radium is that of improving the edible properties of the [food] products,” Rusby wrote.
Rusby states the subject of the experiment consisted of “field crops covering more than 100 acres” in the village. The results of his experiments at the village site were not published in that article, as heavy rains in March, April and May delayed planting and “severe drought caused further injury” later in the growing season.
Check back here, or see the Oct. 26 edition for more on this story.

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