CDPHE: Radioactive material dumped in GJ spring clean-up

A piece of Radium-226, similar to the one discovered in Grand Junction
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GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. (KCCO) -- A tiny piece of metal is causing a huge uproar at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE).

Officials are looking for the person who dumped a small source of radioactive Radium-226 during the Grand Junction Spring Clean-Up Days from April 15-26.

In a release, Community Involvement Manager Warren Smith said the person may have been exposed to a high dose of radiation.

“These are very dangerous radiation levels, but the main concern is not for the general public. It is for the individual who was in possession of the material before it was discovered by the city,” said Dr. Christopher Urbina, CDPHE executive director.

Smith said while this kind of hazardous waste disposal is illegal, the CDPHE doesn't plan on penalizing the person who did it. They just want to contact him/her to see if the exposure will be harmful and to check if there are more hazardous materials.

The radium piece was about the size of two Tic Tacs laid end to end.

City trash collectors discovered it when the source's radiation tripped an alarm as a trash truck drove into the Mesa County Solid Waste Facility on April 24.

The truck's garbage was from homes within Grand Junction city limits south of North Avenue, but officials do not know exactly where the radium was picked up.

The radioactive piece was folded in tape and may have been inside a 3-inch diameter, 1.5-foot long PVC pipe labeled "Source." Alongside it, workers collected glass X-ray plates, a chemistry set and books about lasers.

According to Smith, the radium was emitting 200 millirem of radiation per hour, and the public exposure limit for Radium-226 is 100 millirem per year.

If a person sat within one meter of the radium for 15 hours in one year, their health could be at great risk for cancer.

After it was discovered, the trash truck carrying the radium was set aside in locked part of the city yard until May 7. The radium is now in a shielded container at a secure area, waiting to be disposed of properly, Smith says.

Radium-226 is typically used for industrial and medical purposes, but officials believe the form found in Grand Junction was most likely a relic someone had stored in his or her home.

If you have any information about the material, call Steve Tarlton at 303-692-3423 or at the toll-free number 1-888-569-1831 x 3423.

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