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Radioactive theft suspects released from hospital

10:45 AM, Dec 7, 2013   |    comments
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Six people suspected of having stolen a shipment of highly radioactive cobalt-60 were released from a Mexican hospital but remain in police custody, officials said Friday.

The Hidalgo state Health Department said in a statement that the six males, ages 16 to 38, were reported to be stable. A Health Department spokeswoman told Reuters that only the 16-year-old showed signs of radiation exposure and that he, too, was in good health.

Health Secretary Pedro Luis Noble confirmed that the six had been admitted to General Hospital of Pachuca, telling Telemundo that they could be transferred to another facility. 

An official with the federal prosecutor's office told The Associated Press that the suspects would be turned over to investigators for questioning. 

The International Atomic Energy Agency said the cobalt, which is often used in chemotherapy, was stolen from a hospital in Tijuana.

It was discovered Wednesday in a rural area about a half-mile from Hueypoxtla, near where the truck that had been used to transport it was found abandoned. 

Mexican officials said the thieves probably didn't know what they were taking, most likely having targeted the truck. 

Cobalt-60 emits strong gamma rays and poses a significant threat of radiation sickness and skin burns in the short term and causes cancer of the liver, kidneys and bones, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

David Vila of Telemundo contributed to this report from Mexico City.

By M. Alex Johnson, Staff Writer, NBC News

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