How did radioactive material end up on the shelf of a home goods store in Port Chester?
It started with a scrap metal yard in India, where someone looking to make a few bucks unknowingly sold metal contaminated with Cobalt 60. From there, it was smelted down along with other scrap metal, and during the manufacturing process it was turned into items meant for American consumers -- metal tissue box covers.
The U.S.-bound shipment left India and arrived here on Dec. 27, according to the county health department. From there, the tissue box covers were distributed to more than 200 Bed, Bath and Beyond stores in the U.S. -- including the here in Port Chester.
Eight of the contaminated tissue box covers were split between the Port Chester store and another nearby store in Elmsford, but the items were quickly pulled and none were sold to customers, acccording to Westchester County's Department of Health.
“Nuclear regulatory authorities have assured us these tissue box covers pose no immediate threat to anyone’s health,’’ said Sherlita Amler, the county health commissioner. “The NRC also told us that the material is believed to be in the tissue cover itself and cannot be inhaled, nor can it contaminate other objects such as tissues.’’
Cobalt 60 is a synthetic radioactive isotope, and health officials sought input from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, but this wasn't material that came from an underground nuclear bunker in Iran or North Korea -- Cobalt 60 is mostly used in lab and medical settings for irradiation and sterilization, according to the EPA.
"Cobalt (including cobalt-60) is a hard, brittle, gray metal with a bluish tint. It is solid under normal conditions and is generally similar to iron and nickel in its properties. In particular, cobalt, like iron, can be magnetized," reads a description from the Environmental Protection Agency.
If the material is relatively harmless, how did authorities discover the contamination? According to the health department, a delivery truck carrying the tissue box covers set off radiation alarms on a route in California.
As for Bed, Bath and Beyond, the company has pulled the entire product line from its shelves and "is working cooperatively with state and federal authorities" to safely dispose of the contaminated items, according to the health department.
Follow Port Chester Patch!