Today more than 50% of ferrous metals are produced of metal scrap
Metals are not just recyclable, they are infinitely recyclable what makes them some of the most re-used materials in the world. Due to this there is high risk of recycling radioactive contaminated materials.
When a radioactive source is melted during the process of recycling, the radioactive substances are not destroyed and the radioactivity remains! There have been a number of incidents in which Cobalt-60 sources contained in steel scrap have been melted in steelmaking furnaces, and the resulting product, containing Cobalt-60, has been distributed to customers who could never find it out without using a dosimeter.
- Chinese brand manufactured radioactive cheese graters which contained the radioactive isotope Cobalt-60 in 2008.Each of them emitted the equivalent of a chest X-ray every 36 hours.
- Radioactive tissue box holders arrived to New York from India and 220 were distributed to the stores around the USA on December 2011. The boxes contained Cobalt-60. Holding one near the body for an hour would be equivalent to making chest x-ray.
- A container with 125 items of radioactive stainless steel and aluminium kitchenware stuff containing Cobalt-60 were arrested in Sri Lanka
on September 2012. It was confirmed by the laboratory that those items were made of scrap material which had not passed through a scan before melting. In the case the contaminated kitchenware was used to store food, radioactivity could enter the human's body.
How do radioactive materials get into the metal scrap?
There are 3 main ways:
- abandoned, lost, misplaced or stolen radioactive metal can go for recycling by mistake or illegally
- uncontrolled radioactive contaminated material may appear in the scrap steam from the process where the material has been used. For example in an extraction industry radioactive materials from the soil may be deposited in pipes or equipment
- introduction of material with a very low level of radioactivity, released in accordance with the national regulatory framework
So how you can be sure your car, kitchen stuff or your child's toys are not radioactive?
There is one way to find it out - to use a dosimeter for measuring the level of radiation. Nowadays dosimeters are cheap enough and user friendly. Because of increasing amount of incidents when contaminated materials get into the items of household use, it is beneficial to check up all things for radioactivity. You never know what is hidden in there!