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Illinois Hospital Loses Radioactive Material

Authorities are probing how a safe that held radioactive material vanished from a storage space at an Illinois hospital, the Chicago Tribune reported yesterday (see GSN, July 6).

The lead-lined safe at the Riverside Medical Center in Kankakee was not located when construction workers finished a demolition job at the medical center on July 13, said Illinois Emergency Management Agency official Gibb Vinson. Authorities believe work teams could have unintentionally included the safe in refuse bound for a local landfill.

Vinson said thieves are not thought to have taken the secured container, though the incident remains under investigation.

In a report submitted to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the agency said the safe held a limited number of tiny radioactive "seeds" that were employed to eradicate cancer cells.

So long as the seeds are kept in the safe they do not endanger public safety, Vinson said. Direct exposure to the material, though, could cause "significant" health repercussions, he said.

"As long as they remain in the safe, it's a relatively safe situation," Vinson said.

Authorities have informed local landfill managers of the situation and asked them to use radiation detectors to search for the safe (Joel Hood, Chicago Tribune, July 21).

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