The radioactive material was in an X-ray Flourescence Meter which belonged to FFEI Ltd (formerly known as Fuji Film Electronic Imaging Ltd) and used at its Peterborough premises until October last year when it was no longer needed.
B&W Waste Management Services Ltd, a hazardous waste operator, was employed to remove the meter from the premises and employee Mouritz Botha collected it and transported it to their waste transfer station in Bedford.
FFEI was fined £1,400 and ordered to pay £4,000 costs for causing the meter to be disposed of; B&W was fined a total of £4,000 and ordered to pay £4,000 costs for receiving and accumulating radioactive waste; and Botha was fined £250 for receiving the waste to dispose of it. All three had pleaded guilty to the charges.
Magistrates were told that the XRF Meter was used for analysing levels of cadmium and contained two closed radioactive sources, Cadmium 109 and Americium 241. The Cadmium 109 source is a Gamma emitter – Gamma rays are very penetrating and can cause skin and membrane damage. The Americium 241 is an Alpha emitter – Alpha rays can be stopped by paper or skin but if ingested or inhaled may cause serious harm.
Mrs Anne-Lise McDonald said that the Environment Agency granted a registration for the two sources in November 2002 which was amended, in name only, in October 2007 when the company changed its name to FFEI Ltd.
Also in October 2007 a counter terrorism security advisor employed by Cambridgeshire Police contacted FFEI to make a routine annual security inspection of the storage of the meter. As a result of his call staff decided to dispose of the meter and one member of staff with no previous involvement with the meter and no training or knowledge of the company’s procedures for it or compliance with its registration made the arrangements.
FFEI’s normal waste disposal company claimed that they were contacted about disposing of the meter but said the FFEI member of staff who contacted them did not state that the meter was radioactive. They thought it must be classed as hazardous waste as it was used to test for Cadmium so were unable to deal with it. They contacted B&W, a licensed hazardous waste transfer station operator.
Mrs McDonald said the information passed on by FFEI was forwarded to B&W and then to a further hazardous waste transfer station operator asking for a quote for disposal. This information did not state that the unit was radioactive. Once a price had been agreed Botha collected the meter from FFEI in a B&W vehicle on 31 October.
Mrs McDonald said the meter was stored in a case with a radioactive trefoil label and additional labels stating that it was a radioactivbe source, the serial number of the meter and the name and activity level of the two sources.
Botha told investigators that he ‘didn’t pay much attention’ to the labels. He knew the trefoil was a radioactive sign but the other labels didn’t mean anything to him. He said the people handing over the meter had no special clothing so he didn’t see anything wrong with taking the case away.
After signing a Hazardous Waste Consignment Note he put the case in his vehicle and took it to the Hazardous Waste Transfer Station operated by B&W at Clapham, Bedford, magistrates were told.
Later Managing Director of B&W, Marcus Buckle, found the case on top of other waste electrical goods and moved it because he noticed the radioactive signs and was concerned. He moved it to a small room at the end of the staff kitchen which was brick built and had no windows and he locked the door. He told Botha to get it collected as soon as possible.
Mrs McDonald said that Mr Buckle had not contacted FFEI to get further details on the meter, had not taken it back to them, did not contact the Environment Agency for advice nor did he feel it necessary to ask Botha to advise the other waste transfer station operator that the meter had radioactive labelling and therefore may contain radioactive sources.
On 9 November Botha asked if someone from the other waste transfer station could collect the meter in their car, but was not happy to pay for that service, so 13 days later added it to a consignment of drums of hazardous waste being collected. He had given the model number of the meter but that was not passed on to the technical department and its collection with the rest of the waste was agreed.
The driver of a transport company used to collect the waste noticed the radioactive stickers and raised a concern with the loader who allegedly told him that it contained only mercury so he took it away to a transfer station at Hinkley where he alerted the site senior chemist who put it in quarantine and contacted the Environment Agency.
The meter was finally removed and returned to Niton on 2 January 2008.
Mrs McDonald told the court that although there had been no environmental pollution or harm to human health associated with the incident, there had been potential for significant harm to human health.
‘Sealed radioactive sources are safe if they remain intact but if the meter was broken or the outer casing of the sources was damaged it would be possible for harmful radioactive material to escape,’ said Mrs McDonald.
‘The B&W transfer station is used for the storage of oils and other waste electrical and electronic equipment and there is no sprinkler system or smoke detection on site. In the event of a fire, the protective shielding of the meter could have been damaged exposing the radioactive sources. This could have created a risk of human exposure to radioactivity.’
Mrs McDonald said that FFEI had entrusted a member of the staff to deal with the disposal of a radioactive source without any specific training in the handling of radioactive materials. B&W, partly through Botha’s actions, received and stored radioactive material without taking proper care or precautions, and Mr Buckle had stored the radioactive material in a small room at the back of the staff kitchen rather than take advice on the proper action to take.
She said that then Mr Buckle and Botha had arranged for the radioactive material to be removed to another unauthorised site without warning of the radioactive nature of the waste.
After the hearing Environment Agency officer Roy Mantas said: ‘
‘The use, storage and disposal of radioactive sources and waste is controlled by the Radioactive Substances Act 1993, which is strictly regulated by the Environment Agency. The Act requires that the use of radioactive materials be minimised and that users employ best practical means to ensure risks of exposure to members of the public be kept as low as reasonbly practical.
‘It is the responsibilty of companies using radioactive materials to be aware of the legislation and employ suitably qualified and competent radiological protection supervisors and advisors to ensure compliance with government legislation.
‘Negligence and misuse in the handling of radiaoctive materials can cause significant harm to human health, hence complacency and compromises in the storage, use and disposal of such materials is not tolerated.’
FFEI Ltd pleaded guilty to:
1. On 31 October 2007 FFEI Ltd did, cause radioactive waste, namely a Niton meter, to be disposed of from its premises at Bretton Way, Peterborough, Cambridgeshire, which are used for the purposes of its undertaking, without the benefit of an authorisation. Contrary to Sections 13(1) and 32(1)(a) of the Radioactive Substances Act 1993
B & W Waste Management Services Ltd pleaded guilty to:
1. On 31 October 2007 B & W Waste Management Services Ltd, did receive radioactive waste, namely a Niton meter, for the purpose of its disposal, in the course of carrying on an undertaking, without the benefit of an authorisation. Contrary to Sections 13(3) and 32(1)(a) of the Radioactive Substances Act 1993
2. Between 30 October 2007 and 24 November 2007 B & W Waste Management Services Ltd did accumulate radioactive waste, namely a Niton meter, with a view to its subsequent disposal, on its premises at Building 18, Twinwoods Business Park, Twinwoods, Bedfordshire, which are used for the purposes of its undertaking, without the benefit of an authorisation. Contrary to Sections 14(1) and 32(1)(a) of the Radioactive Substances Act 1993
Mouritz Botha pleaded guilty to:
1. On 31 October 2007 B & W Waste Management Services Ltd, did receive radioactive waste, namely a Niton meter, for the purpose of its disposal, in the course of carrying on an undertaking, without the benefit of an authorisation due to your act or default. Contrary to Sections 13(3), 32(1)(a) and 37 of the Radioactive Substances Act 1993