Months after radiation leak, researchers getting back to work but First Hill building remains closed

A caution sign hangs from the fence surrounding the loading dock of the closed Harborview Research and Training Building on Feb. 19, 2020. On May 2, 2019, 13 people were exposed to radiation while trying to transport an irradiator from the building. (Image: Conor Courtney)

By Conor Courtney, UW News Lab/Special to CHS

The loading dock looks almost normal, sitting in the shade behind the Harborview Research and Training Building.

But there are no lab technicians running back from their lunch break, no one delivering packages, no movement around the 9th Ave building, which has been closed since May 2, 2019 when 13 people were exposed to a radioactive substance while trying to disassemble an irradiator.

The night of the leak in the middle of First Hill, a Department of Energy team working to remove the irradiator from the building accidently cut into a capsule containing a radioactive powder called cesium-137. The radioactive contamination quickly spread around the loading dock, the first three floors and one of the staircases of the Research and Training Building.

The leak forced responders to turn off the HVAC in the building to prevent the spread of the powder and it remained off for multiple days as officials tried to clean up the leak.

Department of Energy deputy director for public affairs Gregory Wolf said the Department of Energy is handling the remediation and cost of the incident, but did not specify when the building would reopen nor the cost of the remediation. Continue reading

$1.74 billion bond measure would bring much needed upgrades, new 10-story tower to Harborview

(Image: UW Medicine)

There are some big decisions to make this election year. In November, King County voters may face a vote on a $1.74 billion bond to renovate and expand Harborview Medical Center.

The hospital, situated on First Hill, is owned by King County, but staffed and operated by the University of Washington. As a publicly owned and operated hospital, Harborview serves many people who need healthcare and would not be able to pay for it including, but not limited to, the area homeless population.

In addition, Harborview serves as the Level 1 trauma center for the states of Washington, Alaska, Idaho and Montana. It is the disaster preparedness and control hospital for Seattle and King County. In short, if you find yourself there, something very, very bad has likely happened.

The hospital has 413 beds, 40 of which are in single rooms, and 20 of those 40 are reserved for patients in need of psychiatric care. The hospital says that typically, 50 beds in double rooms can’t be used because of infection protocols. According to the King County Executive’s office, it had more than 16,000 admissions last year. All this adds up to a hospital that routinely has more patients than it has places to put them. Continue reading