Belgian Radioactivity Leak Scare Ends, Precautionary Measures Lifted

by Tanya Thomas on Sep 8 2008 9:04 AM

Following the leak of radioactive iodine from the nuclear medicine institute in the southern Belgian town of Fleurus 15 days ago, authorities had put in place several precautionary measures to protect all citizens within a 5 kilometer radius of the town. Now, local authorities have lifted these safety measures and declared the small town safe, the interior ministry said on Saturday.

"The residents of this zone can once again consume fruit and leafy vegetables from their gardens," said a statement, after the results of more than 250 tests had come in. This after residents were advised not to eat vegetables and drink milk from the affected area.

The leak, judged to be the most serious ever in Belgium, occurred on August 22 at the Institut des Radioelements, a laboratory in Fleurus that makes radioisotopes used in medical imaging and cancer treatment.

On Monday, hundreds of children underwent thyroid gland tests on their first day back at school, but none were deemed to have suffered contamination from the leak. In all, 1,320 people underwent tests, the ministry said.

"The level of residual waste continues to diminish, which comforts us in our decision to lift the precautionary measures," the interior ministry said.

"The national nuclear and radioactivity urgency plan remains active, at its lowest level."

The measures were imposed several days after the leak was found, as Belgian authorities at first judged the incident to be harmless to people and the environment.