MIDDLETON – The Massachusetts Department of Public Health has launched an official investigation into radiation safety and compliance at a Massachusetts Institute of Technology lab after receiving reports of potential employee exposure.

In an October 17th statement, Radiation Control Program Director John Priest indicated the DPH was planning on reviewing records and conducting on-site interviews at the Bates Research and Engineering Center in Middleton after receiving a letter from former MIT researcher Babak Babakinejad detailing his concerns about the University’s Open Agricultural Initiative conducted at the site.

“I am particularly concerned about possible exposure of employees to the radioactive contaminated equipment that are still stored at the Bates Lab, many years after the shutdown of the accelerator,” Babakinejad stated in his letter.

The site, which was established in 1967 as a National User Facility for Nuclear Physics, currently hosts a linear accelerator used to generate electrons for experimental purposes. Despite an attempt by the U.S. Department of Energy to close the lab in the late 1990s, the Bates Center continued to operate the accelerator until its eventual decommission in 2003.

“As part of this effort, the EHS Office developed and implemented a screening procedure to separate those materials requiring disposal as radioactive waste from those meeting free-release criteria,” the university’s Environment, Health and Safety office said in the annual report to MIT’s president.

“The facility is operational for nuclear research and development projects,” MIT deputy executive Vice President Tony Sharon said in a statement, indicating MIT never planned to fully decommission the accelerator. “The linear accelerator remains on site and could potentially be made functional in the future should appropriate funding become available.”

The OpenAg initiative was halted earlier this month after complaints from Babakinejad and others that initiative project results were being falsified. The initiative included the development of “personal food computers” as a modern solution to growing food in any environmental conditions without the need for soil or sun, instead using a system of LEDs, sensors and electronics.

Also under investigation are earlier allegations dating back from September that the OpenAg initiative dumped wastewater containing nitrogen in excess of legal state regulatory limit.

MIT confirmed DPH teams visited the site on Tuesday and that it pledges cooperation with the review. DPH spokeswoman Ann Scales has declined to comment, citing the ongoing investigation.

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