According to a release issued by the Department of Environmental Protection, the DEP is looking for anyone who knows the history of an antique medical kit found in a Chester County trash bin to contact the agency’s Bureau of Radiation Protection.
On Thursday, Jan. 19, a load of construction debris set off radiation alarms at the Waste Management Inc. (WMI) transfer station in Norristown. WMI detained the truck and deployed a health physicist to recover the radioactive material, later identified as approximately one curie of radium-226.
According to the DEP, Radium is about one million times more active than uranium. Historically, radium was found to cause serious health impacts when taken internally, where it can deposit in bone. In large quantities, radium can also be an external hazard, capable of severely damaging skin.
The radium-226 was contained in four capsules inside a small lead safe marked “Radium Chemical Co., Inc.” The safe and some antique surgical equipment were stored inside a larger, locking metal box, which had been pried open. The contents of the box appear to have been medical devices used as long ago as the 1920s.
The health physicists worked with WMI to properly evaluate and store the radium. They traced the source to a roll-off container that had come from the Hershey’s Mill retirement community in West Chester.
Although the capsules contained in the radium are currently being stored at a licensed facility and present no danger to the public, it is important to learn more about where and for how long this safe and its radioactive contents were kept prior to Jan. 19.
“The radioactive material may have been contained in the kit for more than 80 years,” Bureau Director David Allard said in the release. “The metal box likely came from a basement, an attic or a collector’s stash. Anyone who tampered with it or stored it for a long time may have been exposed to high levels of radiation.”
Exposure to one curie of radium-226 is equivalent to having more than 100 CT scans at once, and it has the potential to create skin burns within a few hours of contact.
“Although the capsules do not appear to be leaking, we believe that someone could have had direct contact with these sources of radium-226,” Allard said. “The radioactive radium they contain is about five times the amount found in modern medical sources, and we are concerned about the health of anyone who may have handled them.”
Anyone with information about the kit is asked to contact Allard at 717-787-2480 or email BRP at RA-EPBRPEnvPrt@pa.gov. All calls are confidential.
Download a Public Health Issue flyer about this incident in our PDF section.