Italy seizes toxic wood fuel pellets

Associated Press / June 15, 2009
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ROME - Police across Italy have seized 10,000 tons of wood fuel pellets contaminated by a radioactive substance, news reports said yesterday.

The fuel seized Saturday had been imported from Lithuania in the fall and was found to contain caesium-137, a highly toxic isotope whose radiation can cause serious health problems, including various types of cancer.

The Corriere della Sera daily quoted police officials as saying the pellets could have posed a health threat only through the smoke and ashes they produce when burned. Further tests on pellets were being conducted to determine how dangerous they were.

Wood pellets and other kinds of biomass fuels are used in stoves and furnaces as an environmentally friendly alternative to oil-based fuels.

The alarm on the batch seized in Italy was raised when a resident of the northwestern town of Aosta sent the pellets for analysis to a lab because they didn't burn well, Corriere said.

Police officials in Aosta were not immediately available for comment yesterday.