New Delhi: A leak of a chemical, identified as liquid sodium iodide, at the Indira Gandhi International Airport (IGIA) early Friday created panic after two cargo loaders complained of skin "irritation" but authorities denied the substance, used to treat thyroid disorders, was radioactive.
Operations were temporarily halted at the Celebi Delhi Cargo Terminal Management India Private Limited - one of the two cargo terminals at IGI. Work at the other - the Delhi Cargo Service Centre Private Limited - continued. Two airport loaders - identified as Randhir and Ramakant - who were handling the cargo reportedly suffered skin irritation and informed authorities.
However, they were not sent to hospital and given first aid at the airport. A Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) officer who was on duty when the "leak" was detected, told IANS that the consignment reached the IGI airport from Istanbul in Turkish Airlines flight number TK 716 around 4.35 a.m. "As it was being moved to a secure place from where it had to be sent to Fortis Hospital, a leak was noticed in four of the ten packets," the officer said.
The Delhi International Airport Limited (DIAL) said: "After an extensive assessment, Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) has confirmed that there was no leak of any radioactive substance in the subject shipments at Delhi airport. Based on the clearance from AERB, Celebi has already resumed import operations. All other operations at Delhi Airport continue to be normal and were never interrupted." It also said that all the passenger operations at IGI Airport are proceeding safely and normally without any interruption.
The DIAL in an earlier statement had said that a medical consignment of material "suspected to be of radioactive nature" was reported at one of the cargo terminal of Delhi Airport this morning and the area had been cordoned off. It had said that as per the preliminary assessment given by the Atomic Minerals Directorate for Exploration and Research, the material has been termed as that of "low radioactivity - sodium iodide liquid class 7 meant for medicinal use".
DIAL also said that a team from the directorate, Bhaba Atomic Research Centre and the National Disaster Management Force were at the site making arrangements for the removal of the material. Fortis Hospital did not answer repeated calls on the issue. Giving information about the substance in question, a chemistry professor said that NaI-131 (sodium iodide-131) is a radioactive drug, used to treat hyperthyroidism and different kinds of thyroid cancer.
"This medicine is also consumed by thyroid gland in the treatment of over active thyroid gland," Sudershan Kumar, an assistant professor at Hindu College, told IANS. Common side affects of this drug include nausea, vomiting, chest pain, rapid heart rate, itching skin, rash and hives, he said. "I-131 is decays by beta and associated gamma emissions with a physical half life of 8.04 days," he added.