Answer to Question #11730 Submitted to "Ask the Experts"
The following question was answered by an expert in the appropriate field:
I recently purchased from a thrift store a secondhand, genuine-leather carrying case that accompanied a PRI Scintillator Model 111b from the 1950s. From my brief research, I learned that the scintillator was a portable Geiger counter for detecting uranium. Is there any possibility that this leather case still contains or emits radiation after all these years? I have no idea if the previous owner used the instrument in environments where the case would be exposed, and I have found few answers on whether genuine leather can absorb and emit radiation.
Relax; I seriously doubt this leather case has any measurable levels of radiation. The leather case would be no different than anything else that may come in contact with radioactive material. The case's exposure to any normal, natural area will not increase the amount of radioactivity on the case. If there was an accident scene, where the portable uranium Geiger counter was exposed to high levels of radioactivity associated with a contaminated area and was potentially contaminated itself, the case would be tested and decontaminated along with the Geiger counter. I seriously doubt a contaminated survey instrument would be released to the public.
We live in a world which is naturally radioactive—from the rocks and soil, from cosmic rays, and even from radioactive elements within your body. Exposure to natural, environmental levels of radioactivity is safe and normal.
Here are website addresses for several organizations that address radioactivity in consumer products or materials, which may be helpful.
- The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has an excellent and informative site at http://www.epa.gov/radtown/antiques.html.
- The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission has a publication, NUREG 1717, that discusses a variety of radioactive products at http://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/doc-collections/nuregs/staff/sr1717/nureg-1717.pdf.
- An interesting site is the Oak Ridge Associated Universities website, which discusses consumer products but unfortunately does not discuss Geiger counters or their leather cases: http://www.orau.org/ptp/collection/consumer%20products/consumer.htm.
- Finally, I will refer you to our own Health Physics Society website which has similar information. Just use some keywords to search for other interesting questions people have asked over the years: http://hps.org/publicinformation/ate/.
If you still have concerns, then you may need to contact a local hospital and talk to their radiation safety officer or someone from their x-ray or nuclear medicine department. Or you may want to contact your local health department. These organizations should have access to a health physicist who may be able to assist you more personally.
Orhan H. Suleiman, MS, PhD