Miami-Dade County

No serious threat after uranium found at Opa-locka airport

A hazmat team descended on Opa-locka Executive Airport Thursday after the discovery of uranium in a 55-gallon drum near a dismantled plane.

Police and firefighters sealed off the area and shut down the airport, at Northwest 142nd Street and 42nd Avenue, around noon.

Radiation meters initially indicated that uranium could be leaking.

After several hours, the hazardous-response team from Miami International Airport finished its work and turned the matter over to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Miami-Dade fire rescue deemed the risk “minimal to no hazard.”

“The aircraft parts posed little to no threat, but we contacted the EPA just because there was radiation involved,” said Lt. Arnold Piedrahita, a spokesman for Miami-Dade Fire Rescue.

Fire-rescue workers were called to the airport after an anonymous tip, according to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

The uranium in the drum was found mixed with parts of the dismantled airplane, Florida DEP spokeswoman Mara Burger said.

The uranium (uranium-238, the most common form of uranium) was apparently used on older model planes, like the one that was broken down, to help with balancing the plane during flight and to assist in navigation, Burger said.

Burger added that she didn’t have information on the model of the plane or how old it was.

Miami-Dade County’s Department of Environmental Protection is working to find a contractor to dispose of the materials.

Police said the plane parts were apparently left in the area because of the expenses involved in disposing of uranium.

Miami-Dade aviation workers say Miami Air Lease was in charge of dismantling the aircraft, airport spokesman Marc Henderson said.

The company’s general manager, Mark Dube, said he had no involvement with the demolition.

“I have nothing to do with that aircraft or that side of the airport,” Dube said.

Miami-Dade is now awaiting the EPA’s sign-off before cleaning up the area. The rest of the airport is operating normally.