Radioactive material leaked from a consignment of medical equipment at Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport on Friday though officials said the incident had been contained and there was no risk to passengers.
The leak was detected at the cargo complex in a consignment of sodium iodide 131 – a radioactive liquid used in nuclear medicine – that arrived in a Turkish Airlines cargo flight.
The incident triggered panic and prompted authorities to cordon off the cargo area of the busy airport. Home minister Rajnath Singh, who was holding a news conference on a separate issue, said the leak had been “plugged”.
Two cargo workers were rushed to hospital after they reported itching in their eyes, sources in the airport told Hindustan Times.
The cargo complex “is far away from any of the passenger terminals and there is absolutely no risk of exposure to any passengers”, said a spokesperson for Delhi International Airport Limited, the airport’s operator.
A preliminary assessment by the Atomic Minerals Directorate for Exploration and Research (AMD) indicated the material involved was “low radioactivity Sodium Iodide Liquid Class 7 meant for medicinal use”, the spokesperson said.
Sodium iodide 131 is used to treat hyperthyroidism and thyroid cancers. It emits radiation and must be handled with care to minimise inadvertent exposure.
Authorities rushed an emergency response unit to the site that included representatives of the AMD, Bhabha Atomic Research Centre and National Disaster Response Force (NDRF). The team made arrangements for removing the radioactive material.
Airport staff were directed to stay away from the area.
“Passenger movement at Terminal 3 has not been affected," an airport official said, referring to the airport’s newest and busiest terminal that handles dozens of flights every day.
Sources told Hindustan Times that the leak originated in four of 10 packets containing radioactive material that came from Istanbul. Some liquid spilled out of sanitized containers, the sources said.
The packets, which were meant for a hospital to treat cancer patients, had labels that read: "Radioactive tool class- IV CN 2915-1-1B1 type liquid sodium -2.”
The Turkish Airlines flight had arrived at 4.30 am and the leak was at 8am.