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A gauge containing radioactive material was recently stolen from a residential driveway in West Memphis, according to the Arkansas Department of Health.

The department's Radiation Control Section received notification Tuesday about the missing gauge, which is not dangerous if it remains intact, a Health Department news release said.

However, the gauge could present a radiation hazard if it was damaged and the radioactive sources were exposed or removed from their sealed container.

"The gauge in routine storage does not pose a significant health hazard," Health Department spokeswoman Danyelle McNeill said in an email.

Although the gauge poses a potential public health risk, it does not contain enough radioactive material to be used for any explosive device.

The gauge transport case is about the size and shape of a storage trunk and is made of hard yellow plastic material with handles on each side and on top. The gauge itself is also yellow with a rectangular base and a foot-long handle on top. Both are clearly labeled as radioactive materials. In all, it weighs approximately 85-95 pounds, according to the news release.

The Troxler Electronic Laboratories Model 3411-B gauge is used to measure moisture and density in the soil. It's serial number is 4794, according to the report.

"People who hold these are licensed to have them as part of their job," McNeill said.

The department requires licensed individuals using portable gauges to use a minimum of two independent physical controls that form tangible barriers to secure gauges from unauthorized removal whenever they're not under the control and constant surveillance of the licensee, she said.

The Health Department notified Arkansas State Police, local government officials, law enforcement agencies, the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the FBI, the Arkansas Crime Information Center and the Arkansas Division of Emergency Management.

Bill Sadler,a State Police spokesman, said that state troopers had been made aware of the theft, but he directed questions to the Health Department and West Memphis police.

West Memphis Police Chief E. C. West did not return a call and message left around 3:30 p.m. Tuesday.

The FBI also declined to answer questions about a potential investigation into the incident.

"We can't comment on the existence or nonexistence of any investigation," said Ryan Kennedy, supervisory special agent.

Similar incidents of lost or stolen radioactive material have happened several times before in Arkansas and across the nation.

On Feb. 19, 2007, another radioactive Troxler Model instrument was stolen from the back of a truck parked at a Walmart in southwest Little Rock, according to an Arkansas Democrat-Gazette report at the time.

Both the gauge reported stolen Tuesday and in 2007 contain a source of Cesium 137 and Americium 241.

Americium 241 is a man-made radioactive metal and poses a significant health risk if ingested or inhaled.

"Once in the body, it tends to concentrate in the bone, liver and muscle. Americium can stay in the body for decades and continue to expose the surrounding tissues to radiation, increasing the risk of developing cancer," according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency.

Cs-137 is produced by nuclear fission and is also used in some medical devices, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"External exposure to large amounts of Cs-137 can cause burns, acute radiation sickness, and even death," according to the CDC. "Exposure to Cs-137 can increase the risk for cancer because of exposure to high-energy gamma radiation."

Ingesting or inhaling Cs-137 would allow the radioactive material to be distributed in the soft tissues, especially muscle tissue, increasing cancer risk, according to the CDC.

There have been at least five other incidents of radioactive material being lost or stolen: Sept 28, 2005; November 16, 2000; June 15, 2001; Oct 29, 1998; and July 31, 1996.

The United States had more than 1,300 incidents where sealed radioactive sources have been lost, stolen, or abandoned from 1998-2003, according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office.

Since then, several laws have been passed in attempts to to enhance control of dangerous radioactive materials, but vulnerabilities remain, according to the latest GAO Nuclear Security report in 2016.

Materials used in the industrial and medical fields make up most of the 1,040 reported incidents between 2013-2018, according to the CNS Global Incidents and Trafficking Database 2018 Annual Report. Transportation creates the greatest vulnerabilities, accounting for 41% of total incidents in 2018.

Two of most dangerous common radioactive materials are Cesium-137 and Americium/Beryllium-241, which are featured in approximately 23% and 26% of 2018 incidents, respectively, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Radioactive Emergency Medical Management.

Print Headline: Stolen gauge holds radioactive material, police agencies told


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