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DENVER (CBS4) – Snow surveyors with the Natural Resource Conservation Service have always cared about the quantity of Colorado’s white stuff, not the quality, until now.
“We’re a little outside our mission here,” said Mike Gillespie, Snow Survey Supervisor for the Colorado state office.
From a cabinet behind his desk, he removes a cardboard box containing two clear glass jars.
“Samples of melted snow,” he explains.
Along with conducting the April first snow survey, Gillespie’s team has also gathered samples of snowpack. It’s being done because of the disaster at Japan’s nuclear power plant complex.
“If nothing else, this might just be a scientific experiment to see how that radiation did spread, if it did at all,” he said.
The collections occurred at 10 different locations ranging from Cameron Pass in the north to La Veta Pass in the south.
“We don’t want to create any undue concern,” he says.
Last week, it was revealed minuscule levels of radiation from the stricken nuclear plant had been detected by EPA monitors here in Colorado. In making the announcement, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment said the very low levels of radiation posed no risk to humans.
At each snowpack collection point, snow was gathered both at the surface and deep in the drifts. That way a comparison could be made of what fell before and after the nuclear plant problems.
So, is there a strange glow to our high country snow?
“No, not at all,” says the man who probably knows more about snow in Colorado than anyone else.
Gillespie says he was directed to collect the samples by higher-ups in his agency, the NRCS.
The jars are being stored now, at room temperature, without finding out what, if any radiation, they contain.
“We don’t know that it actually will be tested,” he says.
It’s a public service, he tells CBS4, to grab the samples now at no cost just in case they are needed in the future.
Gillespie says snow survey offices in all 10 Western states have been directed to collect snowpack samples following the nuclear plant problems in Japan.