[ RadSafe ] It's Fear-mongering, but at least it's poorly written

Bob Cherry bobcherry at satx.rr.com
Sat Jun 6 19:20:17 CDT 2009


The article had some factual errors about a project in which I participated.
I wrote a letter to the Scripps News Service in response as follows.

<<In 2006 in Texas, for example, a recycling facility inadvertently created
500,000 pounds of radioactive steel byproducts after melting metal
contaminated with Cesium-137, according to U.S. Nuclear Regulatory
Commission records. In Florida in 2001, another recycler unintentionally did
the same, and wound up with 1.4 million pounds of radioactive material. And
in 1998, 430,000 pounds of steel laced with Cobalt-60 made it to the U.S.
heartland from Brazil.>>

My employer was the prime contractor for the Texas emergency response in
2006 mentioned in your article. I was the radiation safety officer for the

The weight of the Cs-137 contaminated steel was not quite 500,000 pounds as
you wrote. Actually, it was very close zero pound (or 0 kilogram, if you
prefer). Cesium-137 does not bond very well in steel. Instead, it is
volatilized and goes into the emission control dust (ECD) that is virtually
100%-captured in the baghouse. Indeed, the contamination was discovered
first at a site that recycles ECD for zinc, cadmium and other useful and
valuable metals when the ECD shipment from the steel mill triggered portal
alarms. The recycling site then notified the steel mill.

Nevertheless, outgoing steel was monitored for radioactivity after the ECD
contamination was discovered. No radioactivity was detected above normal
background concentrations in this steel. The entire event is described
public records, which you may obtain (and should have obtained before you
published your article) from the Texas Department of State Health Services. 

Or did you mistake the contaminated ECD for steel? The contaminated ECD was
properly disposed at a licensed disposal site and never entered commerce for
recycling or for anything else.

Interestingly, the chemistry tests of the steel that are normally performed
detected a noticeable increase of lead (Pb) in the steel shortly before the
Cs-137 contamination in the ECD was discovered. This may have been due to
lead from the shielded container that contained the cesium-137.

Since we studied the Florida incident and coordinated with Florida
regulators as we worked through our own incident in Texas, we learned that
the Florida company also had no problem with cesium-137 contaminated steel.

It is the steel mill that becomes contaminated by cesium-137, not the steel
product. And more than 99% of the contamination remains in the ECD. The ECD
is already an EPA-controlled hazardous waste and none escapes from
well-designed plants, such as the Texas and Florida steel mills

Cobalt-60, as you should know and as the rest of your article shows,
presents a quite different problem because cobalt is chemically similar to
iron. It thoroughly contaminates steel products if it is introduced into the
steel-making process. It is cobalt-60 that produces contaminated steel, not

It is irresponsible of you to publish the information about the Texas
incident without properly determining facts that are readily available. Such
wrong information can have strong adverse economic impacts on the steelmaker
and its employees. The steelmaker was victimized once by whoever improperly
disposed of the cesium-137 source in scrap metal scheduled for recycling.
Your articles victimized them a second time.

Robert Cherry, PhD, CHP

-----Original Message-----
From: radsafe-bounces at radlab.nl [mailto:radsafe-bounces at radlab.nl] On Behalf
Of Brennan, Mike (DOH)
Sent: Thursday, June 04, 2009 11:25 AM
To: radsafe at radlab.nl
Subject: [ RadSafe ] It's Fear-mongering, but at least it's poorly written

"Recycled radioactive metal contaminates consumer products"

Don't fear the grater
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