The owner of a Kansas laboratory which synthesized carbon-14 was federally indicted for illegally storing waste and attempting to obstruct agencies from cleaning it up, according to federal authorities.
Ahme el-Sherif, owner and operator of Beta Chem Laboratory in Lenexa, could face up to 10 years in federal prison, along with fines, the Department of Justice announced Thursday.
El-Sherif, 61, started the lab in the mid-1990s, and had approvals from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment to work with Carbon-14, the compound being labeled as tracers for research, according to authorities.
The license was due for renewal in 2005, according to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. But financial assurance and other documentation were not made available, so the state inspectors visited the site.
“Extensive radioactive contamination” was found in the laboratory. The inspectors issued an Emergency Order of Suspension of License. The federal Environmental Protection Agency conducted a waste inspection that month, and issued el-Sherif with hazardous waste violations under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act.
Years passed, and correspondence continued back and forth. The state KDHE took control of Beta Chem in October 2013, through an Emergency Order to Seize and Secure Radioactive Materials.
The EPA’s Criminal Investigation Division executed a search warrant on the property on Jan. 22, 2014. They found additional containers containing hazardous waste, and extensive radioactive contamination.
The EPA then began a Superfund removal action. Cleanup costs tallied approximately $760,000, authorities said. When the EPA asked el-Sherif for financial documentation to gauge his ability to reimburse the agency, he gave them three company tax returns that he had never filed – and which had been falsified, authorities allege.
The NRC described the site as a significant radioactive challenge.
“The major technical issue of this site is the extensive number (> 1000) of labeled or unidentified hazardous chemical containers used in the synthesis of the licensee’s product,” they write. “Numerous containers are either unlabeled or the labels have been altered or defaced. Virtually all of them have some level of C-14 contamination of the containers.”
The Beta Chem laboratory is located in a multi-unit building in an industrial park in the Kansas City area. The 2,000-square-foot space was located alongside an appliance store, an industrial machinery business, and a toffee sales operation.