Do not burn!

Contaminated pellets spread

Published:  30 June, 2009

ITALY: Twenty-eight regions have now had Natur-kraft 6mm biomass pellets confiscated following a warning issued by the Italian Government earlier this month. The pellets, originally from Lithuania, have been found to contain radioactive cesium-137. When heated, the ash could prove to be a hazard to health, the Italian Government stated. 

Italy, which has 700 000 heating appliances using these products, is one of the highest European consumers of biomass pellets.

Around 10 000 tonnes of pellets are thought to have been confiscated to-date. The chief regions are in the North of the country and include Valle d'Aosta; Lombardy, Piedmont, Liguria, Veneto, Emilia Romagna, Lazio, Abruzzo, Puglia, Calabria and Sardinia.

The contaminated products has been sold in the EU since October 2008.

In Italy, the contamination was accidentally discovered by a member of the public who noticed that the pellets were burning in an odd manner. The fire brigade was called to analyse the product and cesium-137 was found.

Radioactive cesium-137 is produced spontaneously when other radioactive materials such as uranium and plutonium absorb neutrons and undergo fission.

Cesium-137 is a common radionuclide produced when nuclear fission, or splitting, of uranium and plutonium occurs in a reactor or atomic bomb.

It can enter the body when it is inhaled or ingested. After radioactive cesium is ingested, it is distributed fairly uniformly throughout the body's soft tissues. Slightly higher concentrations are found in muscle; slightly lower concentrations are found in bone and fat. Cesium-137 remains in the body for a relatively short time. It is eliminated more rapidly by infants and children than by adults.

Based on experimentation with ionising radiation and human epidemiology, exposure to radiation from cesium-137 can result in malignant tumors and shortening of life.

Great Britain's National Radiological Protection Board (NRPB) predicts that there will be up to 1000 additional cancers over the next 70 years among the population of Western Europe exposed to fall-out from the accident at Chernobyl.

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