Thornton police recover stolen radioactive gauge

THORNTON, Colo. - Thornton police recovered a stolen a portable gauge that contains radioactive material on Tuesday.

Martinez Associates, LLC, a Denver construction materials testing firm, reported the gauge was stolen from an employee's vehicle parked at a Thornton apartment complex on Sunday evening, Thornton police spokesman Matt Barnes said Wednesday.

The portable gauge was found abandoned between a couple of trash bins at a trail head in Commerce City, Barnes said. He did not have details on the exact location or who found the device.

Barnes said there have no been any arrests in the case, but police are looking at a person of interest. Barnes said a news release from the state Hazardous Materials and Waste Management Division that said police had arrested suspects was wrong.

The Troxler model 3430 density gauge uses radioactivity to measure moisture and compaction in soil, asphalt and concrete on construction sites.

The gauge, which contains two radioactive sources, is safe if it is intact and handled by properly trained people, state officials said. But the device could emit higher-than-normal levels of radiation and pose a health risk if it is damaged, officials said.

Now, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment's Radiation Program is investigating whether the gauge theft shows Martinez Associates violated its radioactive materials license.

James Jarvis, who oversees Radiation Program regulations, said the state requires firms using gauges containing radioactive material to have two separate locking mechanisms securing the device to the vehicle.  This could be a combination of two locked cables, chains and/or a lock box, he said.

These security measures are required so someone who breaks into a vehicle would have to "get through two [locked] mechanisms to steal the device," Jarvis said.

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