NOTE: This is not about chemical security, ICS security, pipeline safety, or even chemical safety. Sometimes I just have to vent about government stupidity and I own this space.
Today the Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration published a Safety Advisory Notice in the Federal Register (77 FR 4398) dealing with radioactive tissue holders; you know, facial tissues, Kleenex®. It seems that Bed Bath and Beyond ® sold some 220+ tissue holders in the United States that were contaminated with Cobalt-60 during their manufacture in India and emit low levels of radiation.
Now having read that information in the Summary section of the notice, I expected to read in the body of the notice that PHMSA was providing shipping instructions for sending these radioactive sources back to somewhere. Since most consumers would not have access to training on shipping hazardous materials or preparation of the paperwork required to accompany such shipments I really expected that PHMSA would provide notice that they were publishing an unusually special Special Permit to allow consumers to get this dangerous material into appropriate hands.
Didn’t happen. It simple tells people to contact Bed Bath and Beyond for “information about proper return procedures”. WHAT? Okay, cool down, read some more, there must be an explanation.
How dangerous is this tissue holder? Here is what the notice says:
“The highest identified radioactivity level on the surface of the tissue holders was approximately 20 mrem/hr, however most of the tissue holders showed much lower levels. A person who spends eight hours in close contact with one of these tissue holders (such as having the tissue on a bedside table next to the bed) could possibly get a maximum yearly dose of about 500-700 mrem. While no unnecessary radiation exposure is desirable, the dose from the tissue holders is not expected to cause any appreciable health effects. To put this into perspective, a person living in the United States receives a radioactive exposure of about 360 mrem/year from naturally-occurring background radiation.”
Okay, it’s really not that big a thing. People should be able to pack these up in a sturdy cardboard box and ship it to some B3 location for appropriate consolidation and disposal. B3 will have some issues to deal with and will be screaming at their Indian supplier. Consumer question, is someone actually making tissue dispensers with steel? What ever happened to plastics for gosh sakes?
Now for the big question: What the Hell is PHMSA doing publishing this notice? Wouldn’t it be more appropriate coming from the Consumer Product Safety Commission? Aren’t they the ones that are responsible for protecting us against unsafe consumer goods????? PHMSA is in the Department of Transportation. They are responsible for transportation issues related to hazardous materials, not radioactive sources sitting on the night stand. How many consumers read the damned Federal Register?
PHMSA is behind enough in their normal work. If it isn’t transportation related, let the appropriate federal agency handle public notices of this sort. Do your work not theirs.
BTW: Did anyone tell the TSA airport security screeners about these dangerous tissue holders that could be used as potential radiological devices aboard aircraft? Do they have pictures to help them identify these devices? Do they have radiological detection devices? I am being sarcastic here, let’s not get carried away.