Database of radiological incidents and related events--Johnston's Archive

Hueypoxtla source theft, 2013

compiled by Wm. Robert Johnston
last modified 20 January 2014

Date: 2-4 December 2013

Location: Hueypoxtla, Mexico state, Mexico

Type of event: theft of radiotherapy source


A medical radiactive source being transported within Mexico to a disposal site was stolen and partially compromised. The source was a 3,000-curie cobalt-60 source in a radiotherapy device. It was being transported by truck from Tijuana, departing 28 November, to a storage site in the state of Mexico near Mexico City. The truck did not have any tracking or security equipment as required. At 1:00 AM on 2 December, while the driver and his assistant were stopped at a gas station in Hidalgo, a man forced them to exit the truck at gunpoint, bound them, and stole the truck. An extensive search for the truck followed, involving an alert in six Mexican states and by U.S. customs officials on the border.

The truck was found 2:00 PM 4 December near Hueypoxtla, state of Mexico, 40 km from where the truck was stolen. The medical device had been removed from the truck and was found 1 km away in a cornfield with the iron casing removed from around the source but with the tube containing the source intact. A local man had found the device abandoned and took it to his home, hoping to sell it as scrap metal. This individual suffered nausea, vomiting, and burns to his back from carrying the device, prompting him to seek medical attention a few days later and leading to authorities finding the source. Mexican authorities secured the site with armed guards at a 500-meter-radius perimeter. Six local residents were arrested on 6 December in connection with the theft. All six were hospitalized briefly that day, testing negative for radiation exposure, although one of them, a 16-year-old male, reported nausea and headaches. Reportedly, the wife of the man who found the device also had nausea and vomiting. The source was secured on the evening of 10 December with use of a police robot.

Consequences: 3 injuries.


© 2014 by Wm. Robert Johnston.
Last modified 20 January 2014.
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