A camera that contains radioactive material has gone “missing” from a Houston, Texas facility. It was reported missing on Thursday and as of this weekend remained unfound.
The Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) has issued a public notice regarding the missing radiographic camera, although says the risk of exposure to a dangerous level of radiation is not high.
“The material is sealed within multiple layers of protection, and the risk of exposure is very low,” the DSHS says. “The radioactive material is sealed inside a capsule, which is in turn sealed inside the camera with protective shielding and other safety features.”
The radiographic camera, which is a system designed for industrial use and weighs 53 pounds, is often used by construction companies to produce radiographic images to detect cracks or flaws that can’t be seen with the naked eye, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, the New York Times reports.
“The camera, owned by Statewide Maintenance Company and commonly used in the construction industry, went missing on March 9, 2023,” the DSHS continues. “The 53-pound camera’s last known location was 4040 Little York Road in Houston. The company is actively searching for the camera with support from DSHS and local authorities. The company is offering a reward for its return.”
Some types of radiography cameras — including the currently missing one — use gamma rays and therefore do not require electricity to function. As a result, however, they cannot be turned off like X-ray radiography devices that are powered by electricity. Instead, the radionuclides in the device are always capable of producing gamma rays and the only way to bock it is to interrupt the beam with a heavy metal plate.
The DSHS describes this type of radioactive source a as a “sealed source” because the dangerous material is so well protected and the levels of radiation outside the sealed container are not dangerous. That said, if it were to be breached in some way, that would change.
“If somebody were to try and take it apart and get to the radioactive material, it’s pretty dangerous pretty quickly,” Lara Anton, a spokeswoman for the State Health Services, tells the New York Times.
The camera is estimated to be worth between $15,000 and $20,000, and the Statewide Maintenance Company is working with local law enforcement to find it and is offering a $3,000 reward for its return. As of publication, the camera has not been located.
Image credits: The Texas Department of State Health Services