Colo. Health Officials to Thief: Don’t Open That Box

If the person who removed a radioactive sensor from a local construction site would please return it unopened, the people of Denver would be very grateful.

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Courtesy Nuclear Regulatory Commission

A common carrying case for the Troxler device.

Colorado health officials have a warning for whoever stole a Troxler 3430 Surface Moisture Density Gauge last week: Whatever you do, don’t open it. It’s radioactive.

This common piece of construction equipment, used in roadbuilding to determine the density and moisture levels of materials like asphalt, soil or concrete, comes encased in a yellow box about the size of an ice chest and is designed to give “the fast, accurate and consistent results you need,” according to the company’s promotional materials. But inside the plastic casing is radioactive material that isn’t safe if exposed. According to Jim Hill of KUNC radio, the Troxler 3430 contains the radioactive isotopes cesium-137 and americium-241/beryllium, both “in sealed and welded containers.”

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Denver engineering firm A.G. Wassenaar Inc. has offered a reward for the device, which was stolen out of the back of a pickup truck sometime between July 30 and Aug. 2. But at this point they and health officials are also pleading with the thief not to open the case. As a release from the Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment put it:

The radioactive materials contained in the gauge do not present a significant health risk to traffic or  pedestrians as long as the gauge remains intact and is not handled for long periods. Higher radiation  exposures may occur if the radioactive sources are tampered with or the source rod is moved from its  shielded position.

Anyone with information is requested to contact Patrick Kernan at 303-944-4222 or the Colorado Department of Public Health at 303-877-9757.