6 suspects tested for radiation poisoning in Mexico

7:46 PM, Dec 6, 2013   |    comments
Authorities recovered 'extremely dangerous' cobalt-60 pellets that were part of a cargo of obsolete cancer-treatment equipment that thieves stole Dec. 2, 2913, in Hildago state, Mexico. (Photo: International Atomic Energy Agency)
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Six people hospitalized in Mexico for possible radiation poisoning have been arrested in connection with the theft of a truck that was hauling radioactive medical equipment to a nuclear waste facility, authorities said Friday.

The suspects, who were arrested Thursday night, are in isolation at General Hospital in Pachucain, the capital of Hidalgo state, the BBCreports. Police are blocking access to the hospital.

The six experienced skin irritations and dizziness, and only one was vomiting, a sign of radiation poisoning, said Hidalgo state Health Minister Pedro Luis Noble. They could be released soon and turned over to federal police.

The truck, which was carrying obsolete radiotherapy equipment from Tijuana, was stolen late Monday at gunpoint late from a gas station by two men who tied up the driver. The cargo included cobalt-60, which the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) calls "extremely dangerous."

If not safely managed or securely protected, it would be likely to cause permanent injury to a person who handled it or who was otherwise in contact with it for more than a few minutes. It would probably be fatal to be close to this amount of unshielded radioactive material for a period in the range of a few minutes to an hour.

Police found the abandoned VW truck Wednesday in Hueypoxtla, Mexico state, about 24 miles from where it was stolen in Hildago. The thieves had removed the radioactive pellets from their protective container, but they did not appear to be damaged and there was no sign of contamination in the field where they were left, about a half mile from the truck, the IAEA said, citing Mexican nuclear authorities.

Authorities continued Friday to remove the radioactive material from the field outside the farming community of 4,000 people.

"It's highly radioactive, so you cannot just go over and pick it up. It's going to take a while to pick it up," Juan Eibenschutz, director general of Mexico's National Commission of Nuclear Safety and Safeguards, told the Associated Press.

Police said the thieves apparently stole the the truck because of its movable platform and crane, not its nuclear cargo.

When the cargo was reported stolen, alerts werer issued in six Mexican states and the capital, and U.S. authorities were on gurard to prevent the truck from crossing the border.

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