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Radioactive material removed from closed NYC hospital

Officials discuss the radioactive isotopes sent to a

Officials discuss the radioactive isotopes sent to a storage facility last Tuesday after they were removed from a shuttered unit at St. Vincent's Hospital in Manhattan. The cesium-137, which could be used to create a "dirty bomb," had been used in a blood irradiation device for cancer treatment. Photo Credit: National Nuclear Security Administration

More than just doctors and nurses have left St. Vincent's Hospital Manhattan since it closed in April.

In a secret operation last week, a team of federal officials and NYPD counterterrorism cops removed highly radioactive material that potentially could be used in a "dirty bomb" from the Greenwich Village hospital and took it to a secure storage facility run by the U.S. Department of Energy, officials told Newsday.

The cesium-137 isotope was part of a blood irradiation device used to treat cancer patients, the officials said. Cesium is highly toxic and can kill a person in a few weeks if ingested. Security experts and law enforcement officials have said cesium is one of the radioactive materials that could be used by terrorists to make a radiological bomb; such bombs cause little damage but can spew dangerous materials in a wide area.

Officials said about 1,300 curies, or radioactive units, of the substance were taken to the undisclosed location. The amount of cesium, which is in powdered form, was equivalent to the size of a roll of quarters. The small size made it more important to secure the material, said an official with the National Nuclear Security Administration, part of the Energy Department.

There was no indication that terrorists were trying to acquire the cesium, but officials decided to move the material anyway. NYPD cops provided security while officials with the NNSA secured the cesium.

"This recovery is part of NNSA's broad strategy to keep dangerous nuclear and radiological material safe and secure and protect the American people by enhancing our nation's nuclear security," agency official Ken Baker said in a statement.

Before the radiation device was taken out of service, St. Vincent's already was part of a special project run by the NNSA to enhance security of its cesium, the agency said. The hospital, long a fixture in the city, closed after a struggle to raise financing.

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