April 10, 2010

                An unassuming market in West Delhi turned into the location of a high-drama search-and-seize. The target: radioactive material in a scrap shop that has led to five people being hospitalized. Experts say this is possibly the worst case of radiation exposure in India, with levels a thousand times higher than permissible limits.
             Half a kilometre of the market was cordoned off by the Delhi Police. Inside, specialists from the Department of Atomic Energy, armed with geiger counters to detect radiation, looked through metal scrap in dozens of shops. Sixteen hours later, the area was declared safe.
       The potentially-contaminated items were loaded onto a carefully-shielded lead container and taken to the Narora Atomic Station where they will be further analysed to find out where it could have come from.
A week ago, Deepak Jain, who owns two metal scrap shops showed signs of radiation poisoning: dizziness, hair loss, burn and rash marks on his hands. He was admitted into hospital, and then on Thursday night, four other workers at his shop developed similar symptoms. When they arrived at a government hospital, the authorities were alerted and the Department of Atomic Energy moved in to investigate.Cobalt-60, a radioactive compound used in hospitals where cancer patients are treated, was found in Jain's shop.
                Ahead of the Commonwealth Games this year, three government hospitals in Delhi have been equipped and trained to look after patients who've been exposed to radiation. In addition to the safety lapses, what was worrying in this case was the slow reaction of doctors and the DAE in recognizing the signs of what could have widened into a much bigger crisis.


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