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Radioactive Gems

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Burmese gemstones may be radioactive!

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Tuesday November 11 5:13 PM EST

Radioactive Gemstones Circulating in Asia

By James Mclean

BANGKOK (Reuters) - Hundreds of dangerously radioactive gemstones are
circulating in Asian markets and some have found their way into finished
jewelry, Bangkok gemologists told Reuters.

Tests conducted by radiologists in the Thai capital showed radiation levels
in some stones were more than 50 times the U.S. safety limit and could
cause health problems, including cancer.

"It is most likely that the stone has been bombarded with neutrons in a
nuclear reactor," Bangkok's Center for Gemstone Testing said in a recent

The concerns center on batches of a popular semi-precious stone called a
"cat's eye" that are believed to have been irradiated to change their color
from yellow, when they are worth a few hundred U.S. dollars per carat, to
an unusual chocolate hue priced at thousands of dollars per carat.

A 30-carat radioactive cat's eye set with diamonds in a finished ring was
discovered recently at a jewelry fair in Hong Kong, jewelry executives

"When it was placed in front of a Geiger counter (radiation detector) we
literally leaped back. The machine was just screeching every time the ring
went near it," said Jon McDonald, an editor at a local jewelry media firm
who witnessed the ring being tested.

Tests recently conducted by laboratories in Bangkok on one 3.5-carat stone
showed radioactivity levels greater than 52 nanoCuries per gram (nCi/g).
The U.S. safety limit is one nCi/g, and the legal limit in Asia is 2.0
nCi/g, gemologists said.

"This is dangerous, it could make your skin cancerous and destroy white
blood cells," said Bandhong Wangcharoenroong, director of the radiation
measurement division at Thailand's Office of Atomic Energy for Peace.

Several hundred carats of the stones were thought to be circulating in
Bangkok but the problem was region-wide, said Ken Scarratt, director of the
Center for Gemstone Testing.

"The biggest problem is in places like Indonesia and Japan. In Indonesia a
gem lab there has seen hundreds of these stones coming through," Scarratt
told Reuters.

"The lab in Indonesia said boxes full of these stones were being brought in
for examination," Scarratt said.

The center's statement said: "The industry, particularly in Thailand,
Indonesia, Hong Kong and Japan (where most of the stones are thought to
have circulated) should have all cat's eyes of an unusual color checked for
radioactivity immediately."

Dealers believe low quality cat's eyes from Orissa in India were being
exported to Indonesia for radiation enhancement and sold on from there.

"We can say with our hands on our heart that the evidence we have at this
time from the questions we have asked, from the people we have spoken to
and stuff volunteered to us indicate that Indonesia is the center of this
problem," Scarratt said.

But an Indonesian jewelry industry official in Jakarta said he doubted his
country was the source of the radioactive gemstones.

"Indonesia buys a lot of gemstones from Burma, Thailand and India but to my
knowledge there are no labs here to treat gemstones," said the official,
who declined to be identified.

"There are laboratories to test gemstone quality, but there are no labs to
treat gemstones," he told Reuters.

He said irradiating gemstones was done elsewhere to increase their value
and one of his colleagues had discovered such stones in Thailand a couple
of years ago.

"My friend used to buy gemstones from Bangkok until he came across
gemstones exposed to radiation two years ago," he said. "Since then he has
stopped buying gemstones from Bangkok."

Tests suggested the stones would not be safe until the turn of the century
and should be kept in lead containers until that time, Scarratt said.

Meanwhile, worried Thai gem dealers were buying up radiation detectors,
distributors said.

"Most of the people doing business in Thailand have very little knowledge
of the radiation in the stones. I hope we can help educate them," said
Monta Chaiyabal, managing director of industrial monitoring equipment
distributor Duwell Intertrade Co Ltd, which sells Geiger counters.

"I know that the stones are radioactive for people, and it is dangerous for
people maybe to wear it," she said.


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