Nuclear Museum Logo
Nuclear Museum Logo

National Museum of Nuclear Science & History

John W. Healy’s Interview

Manhattan Project Locations:

John Healy was in charge of environmental monitoring and later worked on special studies regarding environmental impact of reactor operations at the Hanford site. He discusses the consequences of dumping materials into the river and air pollution from iodine volatilization. Healy touches upon DuPont’s role, mentioning that the corporation was very safety-conscious in terms of reactor operations.

Date of Interview:
September 12, 1986
Location of the Interview:


John Healy: Hello.

S. L. Sanger: Hello this is Mr. Sanger from Seattle, is this a good time to talk about Hanford, or no.

Healy: Another one you may want to talk to is Carl Garmertsfelder in Knoxville.

Sanger: In Knoxville, now what was his position? Oregonian said he was a radiation control manager.

Healy: It has been so long. I do not really remember. I worked for Carl for a while, and he reported to Herb Parker.

Sanger: Was he doing something similar to you for what you were doing?

Healy: Well, Carl was a physicist.

Sanger: Oh, okay.

Healy: As I say, during that period I essentially reported to Carl.

Sanger: Would he have the same sort of information you do?

Healy: Yeah, it might be better because he was higher in the organization.

Sanger: But you set up the monitoring stations for the lab?

Healy: Well, I was in charge of environmental monitoring when I first went out there. Then I got moved to work on special studies – it was essentially research. During that I set up the equipment for measuring, for example, river water 

Sanger: I see. Now just briefly, do you recall any what would be dangerous to health emission or accidental leakage during that period, before the war ended?

Healy: The accidental leakage of course was the ruthenium one, which was after the war.

Sanger: Yeah, that was when? Do you remember?

Sanger: But you do not recall anything actually during? I know the documents would say that because of the emergency aspect, there was some emission. It might have been more than they would have liked later, but nothing that was really dangerous to human health, etcetera.

Healy: I could not quite understand what you said.

Sanger: I said that the summary of those DOE reports that were released said that early operations reflected emphasis on the war effort and the urgent need to produce plutonium. Then it mentions a freshly irradiated field, treated in the field processing plant and the release of large quantities of radioactive iodine. I guess that was the main incident, something that was perhaps more than—

Healy: Well that and in the river, of course. We put a lot of material into the river.

Sanger: As far as you know, did that ever do any harm to fish or any other life downstream?

Healy: I do not know of any. Dick Foster could tell you better.

Sanger: Yeah, he was the expert on that, right?

Healy: I think the concentrations were low enough, so that was no real problem.

Sanger: Yeah, that is what the documents say, too. They do not go into a lot of detail.

Healy: We kept a close eye on it because of the drinking water. Kennewick used river water indirectly through a filter.

Sanger: I see. But as far as you know, there was no serious problem resulting from that? It mentions that there were 1,500 curies a month released into the river as an average in these documents during that period. Of course, I guess that could be a lot of things.

Healy: Yeah, it could be a lot of things. One of the main constituents was Sodium-24, which has a short half-life of two and a half hours.

Sanger: Is that right?

Healy: That was one of the bigger ones.

Sanger: Okay. What we are mainly after is just to get some sense that there was no particularly serious emission either in the river or the air.

Healy: No, the iodine emissions would now be considered very serious.

Sanger: Yeah, we know about that, though. I mean, other than that, can you think of anything?

Healy: No.

Sanger: Maybe I will give this fellow in Knoxville a call just in case he can add anything.

Healy: Sure.

Sanger: You worked for DuPont, right?

Healy: That is right.

Sanger: Where did you come from?

Healy: Well, I had been working in Buffalo.

Sanger: At a DuPont plant there?

Healy: At a DuPont plant. Pioneer research for spinning new fibers.

Sanger: I see. What was your specialty? What was your education?

Healy: Chemical engineer.

Sanger: Did you leave Hanford then after the war?

Healy: No, I left about 1960.

Sanger: You did. You were with GE, then?

Healy: Yeah. We were very cautious during that period.

Sanger: Yeah, but there was obviously more of a sense of getting the plutonium then perhaps there was later, I suppose.

Healy: No, DuPont always was a very safety conscious company. They were putting their reputation on the line in operating this plant. They were not about to have anything happen that they could help.

Sanger: That is what everybody has said.

Healy: As far as iodine goes, actually the cooling time of the metal was increased.

Sanger: After that happened?

Healy: As soon as we discovered it.

Sanger: I see. So that was more or less a circumstance, or accidental?

Healy: It was the idea that this was a first-of-a-kind, and nobody had ever predicted that iodine would deposit the way it does.

Sanger: Now I take it that occurred fairly early in the separation process?

Healy: Yeah. They dissolved the metal, and the iodine, which is a fission product, is volatilized.

Sanger: It goes up out the stacks?

Healy: Up and out the stacks.

Sanger: Well, iodine has an eight day half-life.

Healy: Yeah.

Sanger: Is the main danger from it the thyroid problem?

Healy: Yes, and primarily with children.

Sanger: Okay, well that has been detailed, that part of it. That is one of the things that the documents did talk about in some detail.

Healy: Right.

Sanger: And it is John W?

Healy: Right.

Sanger: Okay. You are retired now I supposed?

Healy: Yes.

Sanger: How old are you?

Healy: Sixty-six.

Sanger: And you are living at Los Alamos?

Healy: Yes.

Copyright 1989 S. L. Sanger. This transcript may not be quoted, reproduced, or redistributed in whole or in part by any means except with the written permission of S. L. Sanger.