October 22, 2008 / 5:12 PM / 10 years ago

Radioactive elevator buttons found in France

PARIS (Reuters) - Elevator maker Otis will replace hundreds of lift buttons in France after authorities found radioactive materials imported from India at a supplier factory, a source at Otis said on Wednesday.

A woman uses an elevator in a Paris' office, October 22, 2008. REUTERS/Mal Langsdon

The French Nuclear Safety Authority (ASN) said about 20 workers at the plant run by the firm Mafelec, which makes lift buttons in the eastern Isere area, had been exposed to levels of radioactivity above legal norms.

“The most important point is that the lift buttons do not represent any risk to people’s health,” said the source at Otis, who declined to be named.

He estimated that contaminated buttons were installed at between 350 and 500 sites around the country.

Only buttons delivered between August 21 and October 10 are concerned. Otis will trace all of those, test them, and replace those found to be radioactive as a precautionary measure, the source said.

The ASN said it had classified the incident at Mafelec at level 2 on the International Nuclear Event Scale. The scale goes from zero, which means no safety risk, to 7, which means a major accident.

In a statement posted on its website (www.asn.fr), the authority said the Mafelec plant had received materials contaminated by cobalt-60, a radioactive substance, from India.

It said it had contacted nuclear safety agencies in several countries to exchange information about the incident, and the Swedish agency had said some contaminated supplies had been found in Sweden too.

The ASN said five Indian companies had sent products tainted with cobalt-60 to various countries, and said it was in touch with Indian authorities over tests being conducted there.

The Mafelec workers were exposed to doses of radioactivity ranging from 1 to 3 millisievert (mSv). The French legal limit for people who do not work in the nuclear industry is 1 mSv per year. However, French media quoted medical experts as saying exposure to a 3 mSv dose did not represent a big health risk.

Reporting by Estelle Shirbon; editing by Crispian Balmer

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