Five Egyptians Jailed on Radioactive Deaths
Five people charged over the illegal dumping of a radioactive cylinder last June were sentenced on March 17 to different jail terms, reported Middle East Times.
A farmer and his son found the cylinder in a field in t he delta on June 27, 2000. Both men later died from radiation poisoning.
Salim Sayyed Ahmed, owner of the welding company responsible for the lost cylinder, was sentenced to seven years in prison, while Ahmed and Rifaat Muhammad Ali, an engineer for the company, were both charged with manslaughter, gross negligence and unlawful circulation of radioactive material. Both received life with hard labor.
The report did not give information on the two other convicts.
Fadl Hassan Fadl, a 61-year-old farmer from Mit Halfa, brought the shiny cylinder home because he thought it might be valuable.
After discovering the cylinder in the sand, Fadl and his son brought the six-centimeter by two-centimeter object home and attempted to open it. A team of nuclear specialists recovered the cylinder before it could contaminate the rest of the village.
The government tested 200 villagers for radiation poisoning and 88 were admitted to hospital, but later released.
According to risk management experts cited by the newspaper, the radioactive material is only dangerous if it comes into immediate contact with a person's body. David Ropeik, director of Risk Communication at the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis said, "Even the most radioactive particles don't penetrate very far. Unless they physically get on someone's clothing or food."
The lost cylinder set off a wave of panic in the community, located ten kilometers north of Cairo. Government authorities later found three more abandoned cylinders in Abu Rawash, a desert town near Giza on July 3, said the paper.
The Consultant Office for Welding and Export, a subsidiary of the state-owned gas corporation Egypt Gas, failed to report the lost cylinder to either the Ministry of Health or the Atomic Energy Authority (AEA).
The lost item raised a number of concerns over how radioactive materials are monitored in Egypt. Under the current law, the Ministry of Health is responsible for monitoring the use of radioactive material, according to the report.
Shortly after the deaths, government agencies were quick to shift responsibility. Muhammad Salama, head of the AEA, told the Middle East Times last July that existing laws were very weak.
"For years, we have been asking the authorities to change the law to help us supervise (radioactive materials), but they never listen," he said.
The undersecretary for the Ministry of Health, Mahmoud Abul Nasr, dismissed Salama's criticism.
"This was a mistake. It could have happened anywhere in the world," he said, "This isn't the Ministry of Health's fault. It's the fault of the man who lost the cylinders and didn't report it."
The AEA suspected that the welding company illegally dumped the cylinder to avoid paying expensive hazardous waste disposal costs. The cylinder had been imported from the United States. According to nuclear experts it contained Iridium 192.
Middle East Times cited AEA records as stating that there are around 200 similar cylinders in Egypt. Various building and petroleum companies use them. Radiation contamination can lead to genetic defects, sterility and cancers, particularly bone marrow cancer – Albawaba.com
© 2001 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)