PETA is calling on Washington Closure Hanford to stop killing mice in its search for a radioactive mouse after contaminated droppings were found at the nuclear reservation.
"We hope you agree that animals don't deserve to die painfully for situations that humans created," said Tracy Reiman, executive vice president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, in a letter sent Wednesday to Neil Brosee, president of Washington Closure.
Live traps should be used to catch mice and then they can be released or humanely euthanized as appropriate after they are checked for radioactivity, she recommended. PETA would be happy to supply the traps, she said.
The letter won't be received until after the holidays, said Todd Nelson, spokesman for Washington Closure. Hanford contractors who do environmental cleanup work for the Department of Energy were on a holiday break from Wednesday through Sunday.
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But Nelson emphasized that "ensuring that contaminated material stays where we want it is a primary concern for the safety of our workers and the protection of the environment."
Within the past month, Hanford workers began finding radioactive rabbit droppings in the 300 Area just north of Richland. They trapped or shot with pellet guns 18 rabbits, finding one that had ingested radioactive cesium. It had been shot and was disposed of as radioactive waste.
No more fresh contaminated rabbit pellets were found, but radioactive mouse droppings were found midmonth in the same area.
Sixty mouse traps were set, but the two mice Washington Closure reported trapping and killing before the holiday were not contaminated. It has been difficult to find mice in the current cold and snowy weather, Nelson said.
The source of the contamination is believed to be the 327 Building, which recently was demolished. Some unevaporated water may have remained in the basement from water used for dust suppression that the rabbit or mouse might have drank.
Washington Closure has taken steps to cover any areas of contamination found with gravel or steel plates until they can be cleaned up. In addition, the contractor plans to start below-ground demolition of the 327 Building and will drop the slab now at ground level into the basement to cover up any contamination there.
Reiman recommended spraying the area with a mixture of salad oil, garlic, horseradish and cayenne pepper to further deter mice from entering, in addition to removing access to food and shelter.
Washington Closure did spray around the 327 Building with the scent of fox urine to discourage rabbits from entering and has scoured the area to remove anything that might provide food for rabbits and mice.
Reimann called mice "gentle, social animals" and said that they have nervous systems similar to humans. A recent study at Canada's McGill University found that mice make grimacing facial expressions when they are in pain, she wrote in her letter.