Missing radioactive capsule sparks urgent health alert in Western Australia

Missing radioactive capsule sparks urgent health alert in Western Australia

Hazardous material experts searching for 8mm by 6mm capsule believed to have fallen from truck as it was travelling from Pilbara to Perth

A tiny radioactive capsule with the potential to cause skin burns has gone missing as it was transported from a mine in Western Australia.

Hazardous material experts are searching for the 8mm by 6mm capsule, which is believed to have fallen from a truck as it was travelling the 1,400km between a mine site north of Newman in the Pilbara and a depot in Perth.

At an emergency press conference on Friday, the WA chief health officer, Andy Robertson, said the capsule, which is only 6mm by 8mm, emits a “reasonable” amount of radiation.

“Our concern is that someone will pick it up, not knowing what it is,” he said. “They may think it is something interesting and keep it, or keep it in their room, keep it in their car, or give it to someone.

“Obviously we feel that it is important that we warn the community that if they do come across this source, they need to take great care.”

The radioactive gauges are often used in the mining industry. Health authorities said the amount of radiation exposure was comparable to receiving 10 X-rays in the space of an hour.

“One of the long-term risks of exposed to a source like this is cancer,” Robertson said. “That’s obviously a long-term risk.

“As a source, it emits both beta rays and gamma rays. So if you have contact or have it close to you, you could either end up with skin damage, including skin burns, over a period of time.

“If you have it long enough near you, it could cause what’s known as acute radiation sickness.

Robertson said the capsule was understood to have fallen from a truck during the 1,400km journey, after vibrations worked loose a bolt, and the capsule fell through the bolt hole.

The Department of Emergency and Fire Services issued a health alert on Friday saying there was “radioactive substance risk in parts of the Pilbara, Midwest Gascoyne, Goldfields-Midlands and Perth Metropolitan regions”.

DFES country north chief superintendent David Gill said areas around the mine site, north of Newman, and the transport depot had unsuccessfully been searched.

Drivers who had travelled along the Great Northern Highway between Newman and Perth were being asked to check their tyres in case the capsule had become stuck in them.