Radioactive gauge stolen from construction site

Moisture-density measure worth $6,000 contains low level of Cesium-137

March 19, 2002|By Julie Bykowicz | Julie Bykowicz,SUN STAFF

A gauge that contains a small amount of nuclear material was stolen from a construction site in Columbia late Friday or early Saturday, the Maryland Department of the Environment reported yesterday.

The moisture-density gauge holds Cesium-137 with a radioactivity level of 700 millirem, MDE spokesman Richard McIntire said.

"We're not talking about something that causes an acute physical reaction," McIntire said. "If you walked around with [Cesium-137] in your pocket for 10 hours, you may start getting some burns."

Physical reactions to Cesium-137 can occur at a level of 30 rems and above, he said.

MDE regulates the use of nuclear devices, and all radioactive materials must have a license and permit before use, according to McIntire.

The device, stolen from the 6100 block of Dobbin Road in Columbia, was properly registered and was taken from a locked construction trailer, he said.

It was among thousands of dollars worth of equipment taken when the trailer was forcibly entered, Howard County police said.

In addition to being a low-level radioactive device, the yellow Troxler Model 3430 is double-encased and is reinforced inside with steel, McIntire said. One or two of the $6,000 devices are stolen each year in Maryland, he said.

A moisture-density gauge missing for seven years was found by authorities at the bottom of a lake in Rockville, McIntire said. The nuclear material was still secure inside, he said.

Thieves unfamiliar with the device tend to get scared and discard it when they see the radioactivity label, McIntire said.

Anyone with information about the theft is asked to call MDE at 410-243-8700.

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