Earth Watch Report - Hazmat
|HAZMAT||Mexico||State of Hidalgo, Tepojaco|
|Jennifer Cole, head of emergency management at the Royal United Services Institute think tank, said the materials could be used to make a “dirty bomb”. Mexican officials notified the International Atomic Energy Agency’s Incident and Emergency Center that a truck carrying a radiotherapy machine used in cancer treatment was taken Monday morning. The truck was taking a cobalt-60 teletherapy source from a hospital in Tijuana to a radioactive waste storage center in Tepojaco. “At the time the truck was stolen, the source was properly shielded,” the IAEA stated. “However, the source could be extremely dangerous to a person if removed from the shielding, or if it was damaged.” Mexican authorities are searching for the device, the IAEA stated. Besides its use in medicine, cobalt-60 is used industrially in leveling gauges, detecting structural flaws and for food irradiation, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Cobalt-60 decays by giving off beta particles and gamma radiation. The CDC stated exposure to large sources of the radioactive material can cause skin burns, acute radiation sickness or death.|
|Updated:||Thursday, 05 December, 2013 at 03:58 UTC|
|The truck stolen on Monday while it was transporting “extremely dangerous” radioactive material was found Wednesday, officials with Mexico’s National Commission for Nuclear Safety and Safeguards confirmed. The radioactive material was said to be still with the vehicle but its container had been opened – presumably by the thieves – and removed from the truck. “This means that the person or persons who removed it now must be feeling the symptoms of acute radiation (poisoning),” said Mardonio Jimenez, a physicist with the nuclear safety commission. The thieves have already died or are “at the point of dying because it was a very high intensity,” he added, although since the truck was found abandoned in a rural area some 30 or 40 kilometers (19 to 25 miles) from where it was stolen authorities have said there is no danger to the general public. Meanwhile, local media, without identifying their sources, reported that the truck was found in the town of Hueypoxtla, in the central state of Mexico. Mexico City and six of the country’s 31 states were on alert Wednesday after the theft of what U.N. nuclear regulators described as “extremely dangerous” radioactive material used in medicine.
A truck carrying a teletherapy source containing cobalt-60 was stolen Monday in Tepojaco, a town in the central state of Hidalgo. The vehicle was en route from a hospital in the northern border city of Tijuana to a storage facility for radioactive waste. The search for the truck and its potentially dangerous cargo focused on Mexico City, Hidalgo, the central states of Mexico, Queretaro, Tlaxcala and Puebla and the Gulf coast state of Veracruz. The source containing the cobalt-60 was “shielded and does not represent a risk” as long as the vessel was not broken or tampered with, Hidalgo undersecretary for emergency services Miguel Garcia Conde told Efe earlier. Should the shielding be breached, anyone in close proximity to the radioactive material would be in grave danger, he said, though adding that “we are not talking about a community exposed to radiation.” Mexican authorities issued an appeal to the thieves to leave the container intact. The International Atomic Energy Agency said Wednesday that it learned of the theft from Mexico’s nuclear safety commission. “At the time the truck was stolen, the source was properly shielded. However, the source could be extremely dangerous to a person if removed from the shielding, or if it was damaged,” the IAEA said in a statement.
|Updated:||Friday, 06 December, 2013 at 04:42 UTC|
|Mexican authorities on Wednesday recovered a truck and the radioactive medical equipment it was hauling to a waste facility when gunmen stole it from a gas station two days ago. The radioactive material, cobalt-60, was found about a half-mile from the truck and its empty protective lead container near Mexico City, said Juan Eibenschutz, director general of the National Commission of Nuclear Safety and Safeguards. Radioactivity was detected in the area near Hueypoxtla, an agricultural town of about 4,000 people. Authorities cordoned off the unpopulated area and said the material posed no danger. The radiotherapy material used in cancer treatment “could be extremely dangerous to a person if removed from the shielding, or if it was damaged,” the International Atomic Energy Agency said earlier. Direct exposure to the radioactive isotope would result in death within a few minutes, Eibenschutz told the Associated Press. “This is a radioactive source that is very strong,” Eibenschutz said, adding that it can be almost immediately fatal, depending on proximity. “The intensity is very big if it is broken.” Authorities have not said whether any suspects have been found, dead or alive. Eibenschutz said nothing indicated the thieves had targeted the material; they most likely wanted the white 2007 Volkswagen cargo vehicle with a moveable platform and crane.
The material could not be used to make a nuclear bomb, but could be used in a dirty bomb, a conventional explosive that disseminates radioactive material, he said. Eibenschutz didn’t know the exact weight, but that it was the largest amount stolen in recent memory, and the intensity of the material caused the alert. Local, state and federal authorities, including the military, are searching for the truck. The material was used for obsolete radiation therapy equipment that is being replaced throughout Mexico’s public health system. It was coming from the general hospital in Tijuana when it was stolen. The truck marked “Transportes Ortiz” left Tijuana on Nov. 28 and was headed to the storage facility when it stopped to rest at a gas station in Tepojaco, in Hidalgo state north of Mexico City, driver Valentin Escamilla Ortiz told authorities. He said he was sleeping in the truck when two men armed with a gun approached about 1:30 a.m. Tuesday. They made him get out, tied his hands and feet and left him in a vacant lot nearby.
When he was able to free himself, he ran back to the gas station to get help. The truck has a GPS locator but it wasn’t active at the time of the theft. “Our suspicion is that they had no idea what they had stolen. This is a area where robberies are common,” Fernando Hidalgo, spokesman for the Hidalgo state prosecutor, told Reuters. Authorities sent out an alert to six central states and the capital, and Mexican customs officials were on alert to prevent the truck from crossing the border. All of the U.S. ports of entry have radiation detectors in place, and trucks crossing the border are routinely screened for radiation.
Mexico plans how to safely box up recovered cobalt
Marco Ugarte / AP
A firefighter takes photographs of the radiation head that was part of a radiation therapy machine, in the patio of the family who found the abandoned radiation head in a nearby field in the village of Hueypoxtla, Mexico, Dec. 5, 2013.
Officials were engaged Thursday in the delicate task of recovering a stolen shipment of highly radioactive cobalt-60 abandoned in a rural field in central Mexico state.
The material, which the International Atomic Energy Agency called “extremely dangerous,” was found removed from its protective container. The pellets did not appear to have been damaged or broken up and there was no sign of contamination to the area, the agency said Thursday, quoting Mexican nuclear safety officials.
Juan Eibenschutz, director general of the National Commission of Nuclear Safety and Safeguards, said it could take at least two days to safely get the material into a secure container and transport it to a waste site.
“It’s a very delicate operation,” Eibenschutz said. “What’s important is that the material has been located and the place is being watched to guarantee no one gets close.”
Eibenschutz said the pellets are inside an unbroken copper cylinder about 4-inches long and 1.2-inches in diameter.
The missing shipment of radioactive cobalt-60 was found Wednesday near where the stolen truck transporting the material was abandoned in central Mexico. The atomic energy agency said it has an activity of 3,000 curries, or Category 1, meaning “it would probably be fatal to be close to this amount of unshielded radioactive material for a period in the range of a few minutes to an hour.”
Hospitals were on alert for people with radiation exposure, though none had been reported by late Thursday, Eibenschutz said.
Mardonio Jimenez, a physicist for Mexico’s nuclear safety commission, said those who exposed themselves to the pellets could not contaminate others.
Mexico: Stolen radioactive material found abandoned
by OLGA R. RODRIGUEZ
Posted on December 4, 2013 at 5:20 PM
Updated yesterday at 7:02 PM
MEXICO CITY (AP) — A missing shipment of radioactive cobalt-60 was found Wednesday near where the stolen truck transporting the material was abandoned in central Mexico state, the country’s nuclear safety director said.
The highly radioactive material had been removed from its shipping container, officials said, and one predicted that anyone involved in opening the box would be dead within three days.
The cobalt-60l was found in an empty lot about a kilometer (a half a mile) from Hueypoxtla, an agricultural town of about 4,000 people, but it posed no threat or a need for an evacuation, said Juan Eibenschutz, director general of the National Commission of Nuclear Safety and Safeguards.
“Fortunately there are no people where the source of radioactivity is,” Eibenschutz said.
Commission physicist Mardonio Jimenez said it was the first time material like this had been stolen and extracted from its container. The only threat was to whoever opened the container and later discarded the pellets of high-intensity radioactive material that was being transported to a waste site. It had been used in medical equipment for radiation therapy.