Capsules of radium found at a Norristown waste station

State officials say this medical kit containing the radium capsules is more than 80 years old.
State officials say this medical kit containing the radium capsules is more than 80 years old.
Posted: February 02, 2012

When a load of construction debris set off radiation alarms at a waste station in Norristown, an investigation revealed a rare find: an antique medical kit containing four capsules of radium.

State officials said Tuesday they were searching for the kit's owner, lest the person be suffering any ill effects from the radioactive material.

The radium capsules together weigh one gram and were safely contained in a lead-lined box, according to the Department of Environmental Protection. But if someone handled the capsules, which are in the form of radium-226, the radiation could burn the skin, said David Allard, director of the agency's Bureau of Radiation Protection.

Even if someone were to open the box for an hour without touching the capsules, the resulting radiation exposure would be equivalent to having 100 CT scans, Allard said.

The load of debris that contained the medical kit was traced to a work site at the Hershey's Mill retirement community in West Chester, officials said. But it is unclear how the kit got there. The kit set off alarms at a Norristown transfer station owned by Waste Management Inc.

State officials estimate the kit is more than 80 years old, when radium was commonly used in medical treatment.

Today the capsules have little value, but state officials are trying to find a company or institution that would have use for it, Allard said.

Anyone with information about the kit is asked to call the Bureau of Radiation Protection at 717-787-2480.


Contact staff writer Tom Avril at 215-854-2430 or tavril@phillynews.com

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