Sciencemadness Discussion Board

Radiation Exposure

slinky - 12-3-2012 at 16:58

I was at work last week removing an immense amount of junk from a house. We sorted out everything which was recyclable into piles. We loaded maybe 2,000 lbs of steel, 200 lbs of wire, 500 lbs of e-waste (computers and old monitors), and maybe 60 lbs of aluminum into a steel dump truck. We recycled all of the metal and e-waste from the home we were working on. I had the day off and a coworker of mine took the metal to the scrap yard. According to him when they pulled into the scrap yard a guy came running over to the truck from the other side of the scrap yard. He was wearing a personal Geiger counter. He said the truck contained radioactive material and they refused to accept anything until they removed whatever was radioactive from the dump truck. My buddy and another coworker dug out a metal box which had a thick electrical cord coming out of it. It wasn't very large. Maybe the size of a shoe box. When they removed it the guy from the scrap yard's Geiger counter was registering 500 from a few feet away.

My total time working around this item was approximately 8-12 hours. I'm concerned because the radioactive item was buried in other metal objects inside a steel dump truck and it was according to my co worker able to make this guy's Geiger counter click from the other side of the scrap yard. I don't scare easily but I feel pretty freaked out about working around this thing.

Am I just being a big wimp and I need to just forget about this whole thing?
Is there anything I can do to treat myself against the exposure?
Should I go to the Dr or something ? :\

Thanks guys

[Edited on 3.13.2012 by slinky]

Ozone - 12-3-2012 at 17:11

Ok. 500 what? If its cpm, no big deal. If its R/hr, not so good (which is more like "from across the yard"). How long are you, post exposure? How do you feel? Any burns? Sounds like a teletherapy machine head. Usually a 137Cs or 60Co source with a shutter...which was apparently open...which Is not good because they are designed to be closed unless powered, which means it's damaged.

In any case, how long has it been and how do you feel?

slinky - 12-3-2012 at 17:18

>500 what?
I wish I knew. I'm thinking it was cpm because it was a small Geiger counter worn on the belt of this person. My co worker didn't describe the reading too well. He just said "The needle went way over to the right and sat at around 500."

I worked around the object 4 times last week. Last time I was there was on Friday the 9th. It's now Monday evening and I feel fine except mild paranoia having been informed of what occurred over the weekend.

entropy51 - 12-3-2012 at 17:19

Quote: Originally posted by slinky  
When they removed it the guy from the scrap yard's Geiger counter was registering 500 from a few feet away.
Registering 500 what? millirems per hour? microsieverts per hour? counts per minute? It makes a difference.

The container might hold harmless uranium ore or very dangerous radium or a radiographer's source.

This is one of those times when the government regulatory agency is your friend. The state radiation protection program should be notified. Normally their health physicists would come to the site and perform a detailed dose estimate for everybody who was exposed. This is the only way to determine your exposure and risk. There is also the possibility that the container could have been leaking radioactive material which could have been ingested or inhaled. This is not a time for guesswork.

slinky - 12-3-2012 at 17:26

>Registering 500 what? millirems per hour? microsieverts per hour? counts per minute? It makes a difference.

I'll call the yard and ask how they measure radiation there.

>There is also the possibility that the container could have been leaking radioactive material which could have been ingested or inhaled. This is not a time for guesswork.

Here's the worst part of the whole story. When my co workers removed the object from the load of metal and set it off to the side away from people so they could get the metal processed by the scrap yard employees, someone stole the radioactive object. Someone took it because they saw the large amount of copper in the cord coming out of the object and wanted to scrap it themselves. Really feel bad for whoever took it because he could have this thing sitting on the seat of his car or something. :|

slinky - 12-3-2012 at 17:46

I just called the scrap yard and they are currently closed. I'll call them tomorrow morning when they open.

I asked my coworker to describe the object a little better. He said there was a small tan box with a knob on it which was connected via wire to a larger black box the size of a shoe box. My co worker said the object looked like nothing he had ever seen before.

Sorry my information is so vague. I don't have access to this object anymore and I wasn't present when the reading was taken. My co worker told me that when they pulled into the lot the steel doors on the dump truck were closed when the scrap yard employee notified them of the radiation. Hopefully he's wrong about that ?

bfesser - 12-3-2012 at 18:07

Slinky, your profile doesn't list a location. In what country did this take place?

slinky - 12-3-2012 at 18:09

I live in Southern California.

entropy51 - 12-3-2012 at 18:26

It could easily be an industrial radiography source. They can be quite hot, but usually the worst health risk occurs when someone carries the source around in his pocket. Exposure many feet away is not safe, but for a brief time is usually not life threatening.

Contact the state radiological control agency.

neptunium - 12-3-2012 at 20:04

in the case of severe exposure they usually perform a blood test.
but i doubt you received enough radiation to actually get sick. dont panic dont flight too often and you`ll be fine.
the metal and the trailler (or pick up truck?) shiellded the source most of the time anyway. unless you and your friend were messing with it all day you should be ok.

Now if someone stolled it its a whole different hazard! whoever took it is in severe danger ! not knowing what it is can be deadly.
how come the box wasnt clearly identify with a radiation hazard sign? even the oldest one i`ve seen are usually covered in bright stickers!
And you say this came out of a house??? was it a hospital junk house? an old dentidt office?

Endimion17 - 13-3-2012 at 07:54

This smells to me like hard beta radiation, possibly some brehmstrahlung involved, too, because of the car door not blocking the rays completely.

Your exposure depends, among other factors, on whether the iris of the device was pointed towards you (if other parts of the shield aren+t damaged). Those things are basically shielded boxes with an aperture, obviously broken or stuck open in this case.
Somehow I doubt the guy had a counter that counts μSv/h. I bet it was counts per minute. Seems more appropriate for a junk yard. Devices that can calculate μSv/h are more expensive, whether CPM counting is relatively cheap.

Notify the radiological control immediately. Anyone who tries to open that device could be in great danger, and I think someone will try to open it for sure.
The appropriate authorities will calculate your approximate exposure, but I doubt anything bad will happen. You said it happened last week. Serious radiation poisoning would be obvious by now. You probably weakly increased your lifetime chances of getting cancer, that's it. Don't be afraid, us chemists do it all the time. :)

[Edited on 13-3-2012 by Endimion17]

neptunium - 13-3-2012 at 08:33

note that unlike chemicals , it is best to be exposed to some radiations everday than 1 big dose ,based on what you said i dont think you`ve reach a critical thershold.
chemicals on the other hand have a cumulative effect and its sometimes best to be expose to a large amount of toxics all at once ,than a little bit everyday.
all thing considered

Hexavalent - 13-3-2012 at 08:52

No, its better not to be exposed to any toxins at all:)

Endimion17 - 13-3-2012 at 09:40

Radionuclides and toxic chemicals aren't toxins. ;)

Exposure is inevitable if you work with them.

neptunium - 13-3-2012 at 12:30

even if you dont work with any radiation hazard .
radiation is INEVITABLE.

cosmic rays , mineral ore, Xray and nuclear therapy ,old nuclear test, high altitude travel, nuclear industry etc...
you simply CANNOT avoid it.

Dont take my word for it ,turn on any geiger counter anywhere in the world at anytime if you dont beleive me...unavoidable.

Endimion17 - 13-3-2012 at 15:00

I meant to say "exposure over background radiation". Of course it's everywhere. I mean, if I know what brehmstrahlung and beta rays are, I obviously know about background radiation. :)

neptunium - 13-3-2012 at 15:20

i know Endimion! i was just refining the answer a little so those who dont understand, do

magnus454 - 25-3-2012 at 20:52

Sorry I am jumping in so late, sounds like a non destructive testing apparatus for metallurgy or soil/concrete samples. That is usually Cobalt 60 if I remember right, it's been a few months, how are you feeling? Did they do a total white blood cell count on you? was the device ever located?