A Beaver County scrap metal facility has been temporarily shut while the state investigates how radioactive materials were put through a metal shredder there.
The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) began its investigation of PSC Metals in Beaver Falls Tuesday night. Officials were alerted after metal that had been processed at the Beaver Falls facility and then shipped to three facilities in Ohio tripped a radioactivity monitor at one of the sites in Ohio.
Ohio officials were on-site at facilities in Masillon, Mansfield and Canton “to conduct radiation testing,” according to an Ohio Department of Health news release.
Neil Shader, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania DEP, says the department found elevated radiation levels on a metal shredder and on the gloves of two workers.
Upon further testing, the DEP found that the specific element was radium-226, a radioactive element.
“A radium-226 source of unknown origin was accidentally shredded with other materials, then shipped to processing facilities in Ohio,” Shader says.
“We’re still looking into what exactly had this radium in it and why it didn’t trip any alarms going into the facility. They do have radiation alarms going into it. Those weren’t set off. Was it a problem with their equipment, or was [the radium] inside something being shielded?”
Shader says preliminary tests on the workers who operated the shredder showed no contamination. The state is also testing other workers at the site. There is no indication of elevated levels outside the site, and the DEP does not consider the public at risk from the material.
The highest level of radiation detected was found on the shredder. Shader says the agency detected 100 to 400 millirems per hour of radiation on the equipment. By contrast, a chest X-ray produces 10 millirems, a mammogram 72 millirems and a full-body CT scan exposes a person to 1,000 millirems.
Shader says preliminary tests on the workers who operated the shredder showed no contamination. The DEP does not consider the public at risk from the material.
Radiation levels on the gloves were slightly higher than background levels.
The highest level of radiation detected at the Ohio facilities was 25 millirems per hour at the plant in Massillon. The contaminated scrap has been secured.
Shader says PSC Metals is working with a third party to develop a plan to decontaminate the shredding facility. He says the radium-226 couldn’t have come from the nearby Beaver Valley Nuclear Power Station. “It’s an element that wouldn’t be found at a nuclear power plant.”
Nuclear Regulatory Commission spokesman Neil Sheehan said his agency was notified but that the Pennsylvania DEP has jurisdiction to investigate and clean-up the site.
Calls to PSC Metals were not returned.