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Cobalt-60 contamination worry for India’s scrap dealers

India – One person has died and a further seven have been severely affected by exposure to radioactive cobalt-60 contained in obsolete medical equipment at the Delhi scrap hub of Mayapuri.
Mayapuri is the scrap metal capital of India, receiving containerised supplies from around the world. Following the detection of 11 sources of cobalt-60 from Mayapuri using ‘tele-detectors’, the Indian government has decided to install radiation monitor portals at all of the country’s ports and entry points amid reports that the contamination could have emanated from a consignment of imported scrap.

Small Delhi-based scrap dealer Deepak Jain purchased the metal from a dealer in Faridabad without knowing that a closed cylinder harboured a source of cobalt-60. A worker cut the cylinder which was kept in a store where the owner and five workers slept. A man was hospitalised at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences but ultimately died.

The police response has included imposing a 1 km-radius cordon around the scrap dealer’s operation.

Sources say scientists who have examined the scrap believe the cobalt-60 is not available in India in the form found at Mayapuri. Officially, scrap dealers should look to obtain a certificate from the exporting country but this rule is difficult to enforce, one has suggested.

According to the Metal Recycling Association of India (MRAI), the news has shocked the domestic scrap industry. ‘I sincerely hope that they are not able to prove that this radioactive material came from imported scrap material as this will lead to severe consequences for imports of all grades of ferrous and non-ferrous scrap into India,’ comments MRAI President Ikbal Nathani.

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