A small radioactive capsule with the potential to cause skin burns is missing after it was transported from a mine in Western Australia, authorities said.
Hazardous material experts are searching for the capsule, which measures 8 millimeters by 6 millimeters, The Guardian reported. Officials believe the capsule was lost while it was been moved from a mine site north of Newman and a depot in Perth for repairs on Jan. 12, according to the news outlet.
The capsule contains a small quantity of radioactive Cesium-137, which could cause serious illness and skin burns if touched, the BBC reported. The element is used for the calibration of radiation-detection equipment, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.
03:32 PM - Chemical Spill in RADIOACTIVE SUBSTANCE RISK in parts of the Pilbara, Midwest Gascoyne, Goldfields-Midlands and Perth Metropolitan regions: https://t.co/ZSEIQDbkiJ— DFES (@dfes_wa) January 27, 2023
“The substance is used within gauges in mining operations,” the Department of Fire and Emergency Services said in a statement. “Exposure to this substance could cause radiation burns or radiation sickness.”
The package holding the capsule arrived on Jan. 16 and was kept in a secure radiation storage unit, CNN reported. When the package was opened for inspection on Wednesday, a gauge was broken and the capsule was missing.
The object emits a “reasonable” amount of radiation, Andrew Robertson, West Australia’s chief health officer, said in a statement, according to the BBC.
“Our concern is that someone will pick it up, not knowing what it is,” Robertson said. “They may think it is something interesting and keep it, or keep it in their room, keep it in their car, or give it to someone.”
Officials said the amount of radiation exposure in the capsule is comparable to receiving 10 X-rays over a 60-minute period, The Guardian reported.
“One of the long-term risks of (being) exposed to a source like this is cancer,” Robertson said. “That’s obviously a long-term risk.
“As a source, it emits both beta rays and gamma rays. So if you have contact or have it close to you, you could either end up with skin damage, including skin burns, over a period of time. “If you have it long enough near you, it could cause what’s known as acute radiation sickness.
“We are recommending people not be close to it or hang on to it.”
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