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Directory:Recycled radioactive metal contaminates some consumer products

Lasted edited by Andrew Munsey, updated on June 15, 2016 at 12:54 am.

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Page first featured June 9, 2009

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Scripps Howard News Service and others have recently reported that thousands of everyday products and materials a across the U.S. and around the world have turned out to contain radioactive metals.

Things like common kitchen cheese graters, reclining chairs, women's handbags and tableware, at least in some cases, have been manufactured with contaminated metals. Some have been identified after having been in circulation for as long as a decade. So have fencing wire and fence posts, shovel blades, elevator buttons, airline parts and steel used in construction.

A Scripps Howard News Service investigation says that no one knows how many tainted goods are in circulation in the United States, for example, due to haphazard screening, an absence of oversight and substantial disincentives for businesses to report contamination.

But thousands of consumer goods and millions of pounds of unfinished metal and its byproducts have been found to contain low levels of radiation, and experts think the true amount could be much higher, perhaps by a factor of 10.

The Scripps report gives the following contributing factors to this problem:

Reports are mounting that manufacturers and dealers from China, India, former Soviet bloc nations and some African countries are exporting contaminated material and goods, taking advantage of the fact that the United States has no regulations specifying what level of radioactive contamination is too much in raw materials and finished goods. Compounding the problem is the inability of U.S. agents to fully screen every one of the 24 million cargo containers arriving in the United States each year.

U.S. metal recyclers and scrap yards are not required by any state or federal law to check for radiation in the castoff material they collect or report it when they find some.

No federal agency is responsible for determining how much tainted material exists in how many consumer and other goods. No one is in charge of reporting, tracking or analyzing cases once they occur.

It can be far cheaper and easier for a facility stuck with "hot" items to sell them to an unwitting manufacturer or dump them surreptitiously than to pay for proper disposal and cleaning, which can cost a plant as much as $50 million.

For facilities in 36 states that want to do the right thing, there is nowhere they can legally dump the contaminated stuff since the shutdown last year of a site in South Carolina, the only U.S. facility available to them for the disposal.

A U.S. government program to collect the worst of the castoff radioactive items has a two-year waiting list and a 9,000-item backlog -- and is fielding requests to collect an additional 2,000 newly detected items a year.

Humans are subjected to background radiation from low-level, naturally-occurring radiation all the time. Clearly a little radiation is not detrimental to health. Obviously, though, exposures to higher levels of radiation can be detrimental. Scripps reports that the precise degree of that danger has not yet been definitively determined for low-level radiation, such as that contained in commonplace goods and materials. Because the amount of tainted metals in circulation is unknown, the cumulative overall health effect -- now and over time -- is impossible to calculate. Whatever it is, there is little debate that 'unnecessary exposure to radiation is best avoided'.

Below are a few news reports about this situation as well as a range of Geiger counters for detecting radiation.

News Reports on the Radioactive Contamination of Consumer Goods

Key Reports

Recycled radioactive metal contaminates consumer products - Basis for introduction above. (Scripps News June 3, 2009)

Other Reports

Google News > Recycled radioactive metal

Could this be a clue in the case of the radioactive cheese grater from Flint? - Last summer a Chinese-made ECKO brand cheese grater set off radiation sensors at a Flint scrap yard and state regulators were stumped as to how radioactive cobalt-60 had made its way into the kitchen tool. (Michigan Messenger June 9, 2009)

Some Goods Made of Recyclables Contain Radioactive Material - A new investigation is sure to cause queasiness among some consumers of goods made from recyled materials. A survey of recycled-content items like cheese graters, tableware, handbags and reclining chairs has turned up unacceptable amounts of radioactive materials, according to ScrippsNews. (Environmental Leader June 9, 2009)

Radioactive Metals Found in Recliners, Handbags Due to Recycling Contamination - Cheese graters, handbags, fencing and recliners are just some of the thousands of consumer products that have been manufactured with radioactive metals, according to U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) records. (GreenBiz June 8, 2009)

Recycled radiation shows up at home (reprint of Scripps Howard News Service) - Thousands of everyday products and materials containing radioactive metals are surfacing across the United States and around the world. (Journal Gazette Fort Wayne, IN June 7, 2009)


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Geiger Counters

In case you want to checking things out around your home or business or neighborhood.

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Geiger Counter with Earphones Sensitive Enough to Detect Radioactivity of a Watch - Photographic Poster Print by Bernard Hoffman, 18x24 by ~$60.00

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Low Cost Geiger Counter - by Quarta Radiation Monitor ~$160.00

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Analog Geiger Counter Kit with Wand - Assembled and Tested by Images SI Inc. ~$320.00