Antique medical kit containing radium found in trash bin

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection wants to know who tossed an 'antique medical kit' containing Radium-226 in some construction trash.

The kit was discovered in a Chester County trash bin on Jan. 19, along with a load of construction debris.

The box set-off a radiation alarm at Waste Management's Norristown transfer station, according to a DEP release asking for the public's help.

"The radioactive material may have been contained in the kit for more than 80 years," The DEP's Bureau of Radiation Director David Allard said. "The metal box likely came from a basement, an attic or a collector's stash. Anyone who tampered with it or stored it for a long time may have been exposed to high levels of radiation."

A 'health physicist' was called in to recover the radioactive material, which amounted to one curie of radium-226.

Exposure to that amount is the equivalent of being blasted with more than 100 CT scans at once, according to the DEP. It can cause skin burns.

The origin of the radium was traced to the Hershey's Mill retirement community in West Chester.

According to the DEP, the radium was contained in four capsules inside a small lead safe marked "Radium Chemical Co., Inc."

The safe also contained antique surgical equipment. It was stored inside a larger metal box. That box, which was locked, had been pried open.

"Although the capsules do not appear to be leaking, we believe that someone could have had direct contact with these sources of radium-226," Allard said. "The radioactive radium they contain is about five times the amount found in modern medical sources, and we are concerned about the health of anyone who may have handled them."

Anyone with information about the kit is asked to contact Allard at 717-787-2480.