An industrial camera that contains sealed-off radioactive material has been missing for several days in the Houston area after workers noticed it was gone from their work site, the Texas Department of State Health Services said.
Multiple layers of protection surround the radioactive material, and levels of radiation outside the camera are not dangerous to the public at large, the department said, but it should be handled with caution by whoever has it.
The device, called a radiographic camera, was reported missing Thursday after the workers had been north of downtown Houston. It had not been found as of Sunday.
“The radioactive material is sealed inside a capsule, which is in turn sealed inside the camera with protective shielding and other safety features,” the department said in a statement on Saturday.
The camera, which weighs 53 pounds, is owned by Statewide Maintenance Co. Devices like the one that is missing are used often in the construction industry to produce radiographic images because they can detect cracks or flaws that cannot be perceived by the naked eye, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
On Thursday, Statewide Maintenance Co. workers were performing industrial radiography, which in this case was used to inspect welding, said Steve Steen, a spokesperson for the company.
The camera, which Steen said cost between $15,000 and $20,000, was noticed missing by workers after they returned to their work site from a fast-food restaurant, located about 9 miles north of downtown Houston, said Lara Anton, a spokesperson for the State Health Services.
The company and department are working with local law enforcement to find the camera. The company is also offering a $3,000 reward for its return.
Authorities have searched a 5-mile radius, using a radiation detection device that would read the camera’s levels of radiation from about 50 feet away, Anton said. Area pawnshops and scrap metal dealers were warned to be on alert for the missing device, should it end up at one of their sites.
Anyone who finds the camera, which has radiation markings on the outside, should not try to open it but rather call emergency services or the Health Services Department to return it for safe handling.
“If somebody were to try and take it apart and get to the radioactive material, it’s pretty dangerous pretty quickly,” Anton said.
A radioactive capsule smaller than a penny, used as a sensor in mining, went missing in Australia in January.
Authorities believed it fell off a truck during transport, and they expected it would have taken weeks or months to find it. The search was completed and it was found in six days.