Radiation leak in West Delhi

Cobalt 60 injured five, investigations under way

Jyotika Sood, Ankur Paliwal

Five people were injured following radiation leak in a scrap dealer’s shop in West Delhi. Experts investigating the matter suspected the radioactive material was Cobalt 60, which is usually used in cancer treatment and industrial radiography.

The radioactive substance first leaked from the shop on April 4. But authorities got to know of the incident four days later, after someone tipped off the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board. It is not clear who did that. “The board got to know of the incident and informed us on April 8,” said Sharad Aggarwal, DCP-West Delhi. Subsequently, officials of the board and the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) along with the police reached the site to locate the source of radiation. They have isolated the source and sealed the area.

Officials investigating the matter suspect that either a junk vendor sold the shop owner the scrap, or he bought it from a hospital or a factory. But that will come to light when the victims’ statements can be recorded. “It is BARC’s responsibility to ensure sourcing and disposing of radioactive waste. There are strict guidelines too. But it seems lapses have happened,” said Ravi Agarwal, director of the non-profit Toxics Link.

Currently, the condition of Deepak Jain, the shop owner, admitted to Indraprastha Apollo Hospital, continues to be serious. The hospital, in a press statement, said Jain’s bone marrow was significantly suppressed and he has been in the ICU since April 4. Four of his assistants—Ram Jeevan, Ram Kilab, Rajinder and Gorakh—were admitted to the Deen Dayal Upadhyay Hospital in the city on April 8. Two of them were unconscious and their bodies had turned black when they were brought to the hospital. The hospital has referred them to AIIMS for further treatment.

The permissible limit of cobalt 60 radiation is 20 millisievert for an occupational worker with protective gear, and 1 millisievert for general public. Beyond 8 millisievert can cause death, said an official of the National Disaster Management Authority. Exposure beyond the permissible limit can cause nausea, temporary and even permanent sterility, bone marrow damage, weakening of the immune system and hair loss.