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EPA Plane Surveying Downtown and F1 Track, On the Lookout for 'Dirty Bombs' and More

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An airplane will be taking a low-altitude flight over downtown Austin and the Circuit of the Americas Formula 1 track tomorrow. But it’s doing more than sightseeing: the plane is monitoring for chemical and radiological levels to ensure safety over F1 weekend.

A plane from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will monitor chemical and radiation levels tomorrow. The idea is collect a baseline for when the EPA flies over those sites again during F1 activities. By comparing the levels, the EPA will have an idea whether air quality is acceptable – and whether radioactive material, like the kind found in a dirty bomb, is present anywhere.

“For large event there is always a concern of terrorism,” says Lisa Block, a public information officer with Travis County Emergency Services. “An event like the Super Bowl is an event that the EPA would monitor for any kind of terrorist activity. And one of the things you have to worry about with such a large event is the fact that they could set off a dirty bomb or something that would cause radiological waste to enter the air. The EPA is checking for that kind of thing, just to be sure.”

The county says the plane will be visible tomorrow – especially as it’s flying just 500 feet above the ground. (It’s described as an Aero Commander 680 “and is clearly marked with ‘U.S. EPA’ on both wings,” in case you’re looking.) The EPA will conduct additional aerial surveys each day of the F1 race, Nov. 16-18.

Wells has been a part of KUT News since 2012, when he was hired as the station's first online reporter. He's currently the social media host and producer for Texas Standard, KUT's flagship news program. In between those gigs, he served as online editor for KUT, covering news in Austin, Central Texas and beyond.
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