November 6, 2008 1:12:19 am
HITTING HOME: Radioactive trail from Otis lift buttons leads to foundry on city outskirts
Vipras Castings Ltd, tucked away in Khopoli, some 70 km from Pune, is coping with one bit of international exposure it could have well done without.
The source of its discomfort is a revelation last month that buttons installed in some 500 Otis elevators in France were radaioactive. The Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) has traced the radioactive scrap metal to Vipras.
The buttons had been supplied to Otis by French firm Mafelec that, in turn, sourced the materials and components from four Indian companies.
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It was at Vipras that the scrap containing radioactive metal was first melted and made into steel bars that were supplied to SKM Steels. SKM in turn supplied components to Bunts and Laxmi Electricals that finally sold to Mafelec. The source of the scrap, though, is yet to be ascertained.
“I received a call from my counterpart in the French regulatory board and was informed of their findings. We immediately set up an inquiry and traced the origin of the material to the Khopoli foundry,” confirmed Dr Om Pal Singh, secretary of AERB.
Singh added, though, that this is a global problem that was neither restricted to India nor very uncommon. “What is vitally needed is a stringent check at every step to counter such incidents,” he said.
Pranay Gordia, managing director of Vipras, admitted that the chain of events had ended at his foundry but said that it was a steel plant and had only made the steel bars, not the final lift buttons. Besides, the bars were made from scrap that Vipras imports from various sources, he said.
“We only recycle scrap, we do not generate any scrap. We are in the process of finding out where this particular scarp came from. It could be one of the many countries we import scrap from – it would not be proper to name any one right now,” he said.
Vipras supplied about 10 tonnes of steel to SKM that further processed it for the lift buttons.
Goradia said that despite regulations being place for checking the materials for radioactivity, these had obviously not been adhered to either in India or abroad. “It’s easy for the western world to say that the radioactive metals have been traced to India but the fact remains that the products went into France and also outside it to the US without any of the checks being conducted even at the most obvious points like ports. I have been in the business for 12 years and this is the first time I have experienced anything like this,” he said.
Vipras has since installed a machine to check radioactive emission so that such an incident does not recur. “Henceforth we will carry out our own emission checks,” said Goradia.
In France, 20 workers who had handled the buttons were exposed to radiation. After France’s Nuclear Safety Authority detected this, Otis removed hundreds of buttons installed in about 500 elevators all over France and also the US.
The buttons contained traces of radioactive cobalt-60. The health risk to the workers exposed to the radiation, though, has been described as “extremely low”.
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