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Dangerous radium source discovered during Grand Junction Spring Clean-up Days

GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. — The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment is urging the person responsible for disposing of a small source of radioactive Radium-226 to contact the department. Whoever possessed and disposed of the Radium-226 may have been exposed to a dangerously high dose of radiation.

The small metal source — approximately one centimeter to two centimeters long and three millimeters wide (about the size of two Tic Tac candies laid end to end) — was discovered when the radiation being emitted tripped an alarm as a city trash truck entered the Mesa County Solid Waste Facility on April 24. Garbage in that truck was collected from an area within the city limits, south of North Avenue.

Officials from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s Grand Junction office were notified, and the load from the trash truck was set aside in a locked area at the city yard until May 7. Many radioactive materials used in medicine decay quickly but when the radiation emission persisted, state health department officials investigated further. A radiation specialist from the department’s Denver office located the source on May 14 and determined it was Radium-226.

The Radium-226 was found in a piece of folded tape that may have been inside a PVC pipe labeled “Source.” The pipe was approximately 3 inches in diameter and 1 foot to 1 1/2 feet long. Other trash that was collected with the radium included glass plates used for X-rays, a chemistry set and books about lasers. The trash was collected during the Grand Junction Spring Clean-Up event in April.

Radiation experts at the department said Radium-226 is used for some industrial and medical purposes. However, the Radium-226 in the form found in Grand Junction does not appear to be for any modern use, but more likely was a relic someone had stored in his or her home.

Radiation measurements confirm the source is emitting 200 millirem of radiation per hour. The public exposure limit for Radium-226 is 100 millirem per year. Prolonged exposure to the Radium-226 could result in a chronic health risk if the person were within 1 meter of the source for 15 hours in one year.

“These are very dangerous radiation levels, but the main concern is not for the general public. It is for the individual who was in possession of the material before it was discovered by the city,” said Dr. Christopher Urbina, executive director and chief medical officer of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. “We want to talk to whomever disposed of this material so we can learn more about the person’s potential exposure and others who might have been exposed. We also want to confirm whether or not other hazardous materials remain in that person’s home or office.”

Although the disposal was illegal, the department does not anticipate penalizing the person responsible. The material now is in a shielded container in a safe, secure area for proper future disposal by the city, most likely at an out-of-state landfill licensed for such waste.

“We commend the staff from Grand Junction and Mesa County for the way this incident was handled,” said Steve Tarlton, radiation program manager, “They took the proper precautions and made the proper notifications. Thanks to their professional approach, potentially dangerous material was properly secured, shielded and contained.”

If you have any information about this material, please contact Steve Tarlton at 303-692-3423 or toll-free at 1-888-569-1831, extension 3423.


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