A low-flying helicopter that will measure radiation levels around the Puget Sound area will start its area survey in Seattle and Bellevue this week, the Washington State Department of Health announced.
The helicopters may fly as low as 300 feet, according to the Department of Health.
The survey, which will be from July 11 to 28, will start in Seattle and Bellevue and then move on to other areas of King and Pierce County, the press release said. The helicopter will fly a grid pattern at an altitude of about 300 feet to collect data.
Observers will see the low-flying helicopter fly in a grid pattern over the city, said Department of Health spokesman Donn Moyer.
The radiation detection equipment mounted in a helicopter will measure “gamma emitters” like cesium and radioactive iodine — materials that would likely increase in a radiation emergency. This kind of material releases X-rays, or gamma radiation, a type that can be easily measured from the helicopter. State radiation experts expect to find natural radioactivity and material produced by licensed radioactive material users such as hospitals, according to a press release from the Department of Health.
According to the Department of Health, mapping the normal amounts and location of radioactive material will provide a baseline for comparison if there were a nuclear incident like the events in Fukushima.
In Japan, officials were able to measure radiation readings, but there was no baseline for comparison so it was unclear how much higher the levels had grown, according to the state.
The Washington State Department of Health is overseeing the project as the U.S. Department of Energy’s Remote Sensing Laboratory Aerial Measurement System conducts the flyover. The project has been in planning since 2009 and is funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
The data collected will be part of a report after quality assurance review. The report will be available to the public, though some information may be withheld for national security reasons. If levels of radioactivity are high enough to pose any health concern, the source will be investigated.
According to the Department of Health, the project is looking for radioactive material that exists in our environment. The department reported that the amount of radioactive material from was extremely low and will not be detected by equipment on the helicopter.
Information about the project is available on the agency Aerial Radiological Survey website (www.doh.wa.gov/ehp/rp/rep/aerial.htm).
-- Information from the Washington State Department of Health