Answer to Question #11730 Submitted to "Ask the Experts"

Category: Environmental and Background Radiation — Soil and Fallout

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.

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

Ask the Experts is posting answers using only SI (the International System of Units) in accordance with international practice. To convert these to traditional units we have prepared a conversion table. You can also view a diagram to help put the radiation information presented in this question and answer in perspective. Explanations of radiation terms can be found here.
Answer posted on 18 September 2016. The information posted on this web page is intended as general reference information only. Specific facts and circumstances may affect the applicability of concepts, materials, and information described herein. The information provided is not a substitute for professional advice and should not be relied upon in the absence of such professional advice. To the best of our knowledge, answers are correct at the time they are posted. Be advised that over time, requirements could change, new data could be made available, and Internet links could change, affecting the correctness of the answers. Answers are the professional opinions of the expert responding to each question; they do not necessarily represent the position of the Health Physics Society.