Skip to comments.The Mysterious Radioactive Cheese Grater (Made in China)
Posted on 11/06/2008 7:08:50 AM PST by Kieri
(WXYZ) - Scientists say a common kitchen utensil that was discovered in a Michigan scrap yard is radioactive. So, the Action News Investigators wanted to know how the contaminated cheese grater got into this country in the first place.
[Heather] Every time a truckload of scrap metal arrives at Genessee Recycling in Flint the metal is screened by radiation monitors.
In August the alarms went off sending workers scrambling with hand-held radiation detectors to find the contaminated item. Surprisingly their detectors led them to this simple kitchen utensil.. a cheese grater.. stamped with the words Made In China.
As if a radioactive cheese grater isnt odd enough whats even stranger is that the kitchen tool contains a peculiar element -- the radioactive isotope Cobalt 60.
[Bob Skowronek/Michigan Dept. of Environmental Quality] You dont often find Cobalt 60 loose in places.
[Heather] Bob Skowronek is with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality the agency that tested the grater. Unlike uranium, which is naturally occurring, Cobalt 60 has to be made using a nuclear reactor. It emits the strongest form of radiation called gamma rays.
Bob Skowronek says its the wire rim of the grater thats radioactive and he says the radiation levels are not harmful because they are low only 3.5 microcuries of Cobalt 60.
[Bob Skowronek/Michigan Dept. of Environmental Quality] Based on the measurements we took, if someone were to hold it at this distance and scraping cheese through it for 100 hours, that would be about equivalent to a chest xray.
[Heather] Obviously, no ones going to grate cheese for 100 hours straight but think about this: If the grater is in your kitchen drawer and youre standing near that drawer the gamma rays can pass through it which means you can absorb the radiation.
Its now estimated that its at least 8 years old possibly older. And since Cobalt 60 decays over time the radioactive levels would have been about 3 times higher when it was new.
[Dr. Michael Harbut/Toxicologist] There is no such thing as an absolutely safe level of radioactive exposure.
[Heather] Royal Oak toxicologist Dr. Michael Harbut says even though the government is saying the current radiation levels are low he still doesnt think a pregnant woman or small child should be near the grater.
[Dr. Michael Harbut/Toxicologist] The most important thing to consider is, do you want to add another source of possible cancer or premature death to the risk already being faced by your children. And I think the answer is absolutely not!
[Heather] The grater is made by EKCO which is owned by the company World Kitchen. So how did Cobalt 60 get inside the wire rim of the grater? Nuclear experts tell us that most likely the radioactive material got melted together with the stainless steel used to make the grater in China. And since products like this are made in big batches this may not be the only one out there.
[Dr. Michael Harbut/Toxicologist] I think its safe to assume theres more than 1 Chinese cheese grater made with Cobalt 60 in the United States of America.
[Heather Catallo] Would you want this cheese grater in your kitchen?
[Bob Skowronek/Michigan Dept. of Environmental Quality] I wouldnt.
[Heather] Neither would Rosemary Pineau. She loves to cook and spends a lot of time in the kitchen.
[Rosemary Pineau/Cook] I dont care how low the dose when they tell you they have ranges of safety, normalcy, or whatever, Im not interested in even putting myself in that position or even anybody else.
[Heather] So whats being done to make sure other possible radioactive graters are not in your home? And whats the federal government doing to find out how Cobalt 60 got into this thing in the first place? It seems to be a bureaucratic hot potato.
Following the rules -- the Michigan DEQ sent their information to the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission. From there, the NRC told the Action News Investigators that they handed the case off to the Environmental Protection Agency The EPA did tell me theyre working with World Kitchen but offered no insight about how Cobalt 60 got into the grater.
And heres what World Kitchen has to say: In a written statement, they told us they hired an expert who determined the grater poses no safety issue to consumers. They also say they tested 25 of the graters currently on store shelves none of them were radioactive. World Kitchen is also investigating to find out who supplied the raw material 8 years ago in China, and they are no longer manufacturing the grater.
So how did the grater get in the country? Homeland Security officials tell me it if came in today, it wouldnt make it past the borders. But Detroit has only had radiation monitors for about 6 years, which may explain why the Cobalt 60 wasnt detected. As for what you should do if you have a grater like this the scientists I talked to say, its only $3 if you have any concern at all, just replace it.
I guess Melanine isn't the only thing on the menu anymore.
Now we have cheese-graters that melt the cheese for you!
Probably just a terrorist cell using the cheese grater to break up some yellow cake to make a dirty bomb...
nothing to see here...
Yup. Stay out of Denver, Grand Central Station, and airplanes.
It slices! It dices! It even glows in the dark!
I’ve often joked that much of the Chinese junk we see in Walmart is likely made from radioactive slag salvaged from their secret melted-down reactor.
Now with this story.... hmmm....
Maybe grating medical waste. yikes!
Now we know how China has solved their nuclear waste disposal problem.
My high school physics teacher in 1974 had a piece of red Fiesta Ware that he used a geiger counter on. It made a lot of noise! Needless to say, that color had been discontinued years before.
A cobalt irradiator from a Mexican hospital got scrapped and made into rebar, tables, and some other things.
I wish people would stop referring to how many chest x-rays you'd get and just give a dose! Maybe compare it to how many hours of commercial flight would be better.
Articles like this are why people come to me looking to buy a Geiger counter, there is a pretty hot second hand market every time some news story scares people.
And your basic kitchen drawer is right at gonad level. No more Ecko or anything Chinese (okay, except Dim Sum) and my house!
Great quality control they got over there!
yellowcake contains no Co60, just U and its daughter products.
Co60 has a half-life of a bit more than 5 years, so it is not found in nature ever. It would make an OK dirty bomb, though, because a gram emits lots and lots of gamma in its brief live. yellowcake, though, has a half-live of over 100,000 years, so a gram does not emit much energy at any given time (makes a lousy dirty bomb).
Yup. Uranium Dioxide glaze. My physics teacher had the same sort of bowl and did the same demo. Perhaps we even had the same fellow.
Bureaucratic hot potato. We wouldn’t want to piss off the ones we are indebted to.
it was probably just on the same container ship that al qeada brought the dirty bomb over on
Perfect for grating your melanine contaminated cheese!
There is also a blue color called “cobalt blue” than can set off a Geiger counter.
Doesn’t it give you a sense of pride
knowing we live in an age of atomic cheeze graters?
I remember reading a Mechanic’s Illustrated back in 1950
that said the world would have all kinds of atomic powered
hand tools by the year 2000, flying nuclear air craft carriers, atomic trains, and here we are.
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