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- A mining company lost a piece of radioactive material along the country’s Great Northern Highway, the AP reported.
- Authorities are reportedly scanning radiation levels across a stretch of 870 miles of road to find the device.
- Public health officials are warning drivers to check their tires because the capsule could be lodged in them, the AP said.
A mining company reportedly lost a piece of radioactive equipment in Western Australia that prompted a public health scare and has authorities combing a long stretch of road to retrieve it.
The device, a capsule, is believed to have fallen off of a truck while being transported from to Perth from a mine on January 10, according to The Associated Press.
Western Australia’s chief health officer urged people to stay away from the capsule at a press conference on Friday, The Australian Broadcasting Corporation reported. The capsule could be anywhere between Perth and Newman, which are more than 1,400 kilometers — or roughly 870 miles — apart, according to the outlet.
Chief Health Officer Andy Robertson urged anyone who has driven on the Great Northern Highway between the two cities since January 10 to check their tires because the device could have become lodged in them, the outlet reported.
The Western Australia Department of Fire and Emergency Services said the object “cannot be weaponized,” but is urging people to be cautious because its contact with the material could cause health problems, according to the ABC.
The device contains caesium-137, which is commonly used in radiation gauges and emits enough dangerous radiation to equal receiving 10 X-rays in one hour, according to the AP. The radiation can also cause skin burns and cancer after prolonged exposure, the outlet reported.
“It emits both beta rays and gamma rays so if you have it close to you, you could either end up with skin damage including skin burns,” Robertson said according to ABC. “And if you have it long enough near you, it could cause acute radiation sickness. Now, that will take a period of time but, obviously, we are recommending people not be close to it or hang on to it.”
Rio Tinto Iron Ore CEO, Simon Trott, said the company is taking the incident seriously and apologized for putting the public at risk, according to the AP.
“We recognize this is clearly very concerning and are sorry for the alarm it has caused in the Western Australian community,” Trott said, according to the outlet. “As well as fully supporting the relevant authorities, we have launched our own investigation to understand how the capsule was lost in transit.”
Rio Tinto did not immediately return Insider’s request for comment on Sunday.
Authorities for the Western Australia DEFS are continuing to search for the capsule along the Great Northern Highway by scanning roads used by the trucks that transported it for radiation levels, the AP reported.