Radioactive belts

Oh dear.

A batch of metal-studded belts sold by online fashion retailer Asos have been hurriedly withdrawn from sale after they were found to be radioactive.

The peplum leather belts, which have a ruffle attached, could cause injury to the wearer if worn for more than 500 hours, according to an internal report by the retailer. They are being held in a radioactive storage facility after testing positive for Cobalt-60.

Oh dearie me:

It added: \”Unfortunately, this incident is quite a common occurrence. India and the far east are large consumers of scrap metal for their home and foreign markets. During the refining process of these metals, orphaned radioactive sources are sometimes accidentally melted at the same time. This in turn [contaminates the process] and traps the radioactivity in the metal as an alloy or in suspension.\”

It\’s not actually that common. It is a result of extremely bad handling of scrap back at the scrap mill that made the original brass though.

1) There shouldn\’t be any cobalt in brass at all. Cobalt is vastly more valuable than any of the ingredients of brass: so someone, somewhere, wasn\’t sorting material properly in this sense, taking the valuable stuff out of the less valuable.

2) C-60 is a radiation source for hospitals and food irradiation. There\’s no way at all that it should end up in the scrap chain. Vastly dangerous to anyone who tries to handle it: should be segregated and kept in the lead boxes. Whoever comes out to fill up the machine with fresh stuff should be taking the old away with them.

3) No one but an idiot doesn\’t check the radioactivity of incoming metal. Clearly someone didn\’t so there\’s an idiot running a scrap yard/furnace out there.

4) The reason is that having melted down some Co-60 in his furnace to make some brass his furnace is now contaminated. He\’s have to scrap it: for all subsequent melts will also be contaiminated.

5) It\’s a bit tough to blame the belt maker for this. Whoever fucked up it was long before anyone started thinking about belts.

13 thoughts on “Radioactive belts”

  1. Tim, re Point 4: what is the likely cost of scrapping and replacing the furnace?

    tim adds: Depends on hte furnace. If you’re talking about a blast furnace (which we’re not) hundreds of millions.

    Here? Couple of million maybe. Plus the cost of disposing of the now radioactive old one.

  2. The Pedant-General

    Blimey – check out the comments under that article.

    The answer to this problem is, of course, abolish capitalism globally!

  3. I do notice there’s absolutely no mention of the level of radioactivity in the belts. Could cause injury if worn for 500 hours isn’t exactly hard data is it? What would be the mass of one of these cobalt radiation sources? If you dilute 50 gms of cobalt with ten tons of copper/tin would you get something worse than carrying round a granite pebble in your pocket?. Those border radiation detectors, referred to in the article, have been known to be spooked by bananas.

  4. I can’t help thinking of the poor unprotected sods who had to sort the dross in the first place. Tim seems to be saying that the contamination started in the source country of the scrap. My guess would be Mafia handled rubbish as it’s cheaper to dump it on down line that deal with it at source. Big money can be charged for clean disposal, but what the hell, send it India.
    I suppose that from now on all imported goods will have to have a Geiger counter run over them – further expansion of the bureaucracy.

  5. How did they find out ?
    At what point do you run a geiger counter over one of these objects ?
    As the metal comes in ? When it’s being made ? When it’s hung up in Accessorize ? Does the council trading standards check this ?
    “Any fissile material on your shelves ?”

    Tim adds: Any sensible scrap yeard runs a geiger over all incoming material. Sadly, clearly, there is at least one not sensible one out there.

  6. “Tim adds: Any sensible scrap yeard runs a geiger over all incoming material. Sadly, clearly, there is at least one not sensible one out there.”

    I’m really not so sure about that. I’ve weighed in an awful lot of scrap over the years without ever seeing a geiger counter. That’s to one of the big London yards, not a hole in the wall scrappy. Just building scrap. Cooper pipe & brasswork. Lead. Bit of zinc & ally. Fair amount of iron & stainless.
    Doesn’t mean they don’t check later but you’d really be wanting to catch radioactives before they got in the bins, wouldn’t you? And if you use them a lot, there’s no inquiries where you’re sourcing it. Some of mine did come from a hospital.

  7. Replace the furnace?

    There’s two hopes of that happening, as they say.

    Will anyone even know which furnace the stuff came from? Doubtful…

  8. dim and distant memories – I was on the audit team for a big scrap dealer on the North Kent coast about 30 years ago – a truly grim place. No signs of geiger counters anywhere. Very few signs of intelligent lifeforms either. Zombies shuffling between piles of crushed cars.

  9. So Much For Subtlety

    dearieme – “There was a Co-60 scandal in Mexico years ago, wasn-t there, Tim?”


    I note this: “Devair Ferreira himself survived despite receiving 7 Gy of radiation.” Tough little bugger.

    There was another in India:

    And another in Samut Prakan in Thailand.

    The most famous one was in Taiwan where radioactive scrap was recycled and used in the concrete of an apartment building. It is one of the strongest pieces of evidence we have that low level radiation is good for you – the inhabitants got long term low level exposure and yet were healthier than they should have been.

    However the biggest death toll was not from theft or recycling. It was when the Costa Ricans miscalibrated one and killed 13 people.

  10. Point 2.

    It is more common than you think, and mostly goes undetected.

    There have been a number of incidents in the Third World where radiotherapy units have been removed/stolen for scrap with the sources left inside, because of poor safety standards, ignorance and criminal activity.

    Many scrapyards do not have radiation monitoring equipment, but in any case, once the equipment is broken up and crushed, the source capsule splits and radioactive material is then spread through a large volume of scrap.

    I remember a case where radiation protection garments were found to be radioactive.

    The lead-rubber sheeting was traced back to the manufacturer who had unknowingly used scrap lead contaminated with Cobalt-60, traced back to a South American scrap dealer and ultimately to a radiotherapy machine which had been removed and broken up by people who knew not what they did.

    Given that at no stage in the process, by the smelter of the lead, the manufacturer of the lead-rubber, the manufacturer of the garments, their retailers or purchasors, checked for radiation… yes even on produc for radiation protction, your ‘there is no way’ assertion is a bit optimistic.

    The problem was discovered when a routine check for holes or cracks in a garment using a film badge, showed overall blackening which could not have come from an external source.

    Hundreds of the contaminated garments had been sold and in use for some time.

    Often only trace amounts get into the supply chain, enough to set off the detectors but unlikely to cause any apparent harm in a lifetime, as it likely will not penetrate clothes or the skin.

    But radiation is spooky stuff so everyone goes into rinse and spin at the first ‘click’ of the Geiger counter.

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