COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Many people may not know enough about everyday sources of radiation and radioactive wastes in their environment, according to a new study.

A telephone survey of 879 Ohio adults in October 1992 found that while most had some knowledge of low-level radioactive waste (LLRW), many could not identify common sources of radiation.

"Citizens across the country face decisions about where and how to dispose of low-level radioactive wastes," said Audeen Fentiman, co-author of the study and assistant professor in nuclear engineering at Ohio State University.

"Unfortunately, most citizens and local officials are unfamiliar with low-level radioactive waste and are not fully prepared to discuss options for storage and disposal."

The study found that 93 percent of survey participants could identify fallout from nuclear weapons as a source of radiation, but only 13 percent identified bricks used in construction of houses as a source of exposure. Only 14 percent knew that flying in an airplane was another radiation source.

Researchers also discovered that while most respondents

identified uranium ore, radon and LLRW as sources of radiation, only 18 percent knew of the use of radioactive materials in smoke detectors.

The survey was conducted by a team with the Ohio State-Wide Low-Level Radioactive Waste Program, a project of the Ohio State University Extension and the university's nuclear engineering program.

A group of faculty members developed the program in 1991, seven years after the organization of the Midwest Interstate Low-Level Radioactive Waste Compact. The compact, which includes Ohio and five other states, will share the responsibility of storing LLRW from all members.

Ohio was selected as the first host site for the disposal facility in 1991. Legislation under consideration by the Ohio General Assembly would set the guidelines for this site, which would accept waste for 20 years.

"Our single goal was to provide accurate, research-based, unbiased information on radiation and low-level radioactive waste," Fentiman said. "We take no position and we advocate no particular action. All we do is acknowledge that this waste exists and needs to be disposed of properly and that the citizens of Ohio and their officials need to understand these issues."

The program was divided into two phases: measuring public awareness of LLRW and sources of radiation, and providing education based on that assessment.

"In order to provide people with useful information, we wanted to learn what they knew about radiation, what things concerned them, and where they got their information," Fentiman said.

During the telephone survey, which was conducted by interviewers at the University of Cincinnati Institute of Policy Research, researchers randomly selected households throughout Ohio.

"Most people who responded to this survey felt they didn't know much about radiation," Fentiman said. "Many also indicated they'd like to know more."

The study results were used to create a community-based information program to educate the public on radiation sources and LLRW. The programs are carried out by on-campus faculty and through the Ohio State University Extension, which has offices in every county in the state.

As far as Fentiman knows, similar surveys have not been completed in other states and Ohio is the first to begin an education program on LLRW in which county extension offices participate in the education process. Since the program began, two states have contacted Ohio State to get ideas about how to start similar state-wide education efforts.

"All states have to address storage and disposal of LLRW and this is a good way to create an informed dialogue between citizens and their officials," Fentiman said.

The research was published in a recent issue of The Ohio Journal of Science. Fentiman conducted the study with Karen Mancl, associate professor of agricultural engineering and lead author of the study; Joseph Heimlich, assistant professor of natural resources; and Richard Christensen, professor of mechanical engineering. All are from Ohio State.

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Contact: Audeen Fentiman, (614) 292-7930

Written by Kelli Whitlock, (614) 292-9475