Officials for the city of North Bay are figuring out their next move after finding radioactive material in their landfill.

Last week, the landfill sent their scrap metal bin to a local company for disposal. The scrap yard ran a detection meter over the incoming load — as they normally do — and found a very high level of radioactivity coming from the bin.

Michelle Cross is the landfill operations coordinator in North Bay. She says at that point, the situation became serious.

"We put [the bin] at the far back of the landfill sites, away from everybody because we didn't know what those readings meant," she says.

landfill radioactive

This scrap metal bin contains a material that's giving off radioactivity. City staff placed it in a sectioned-off area to keep people away while they deal with the situation. (Supplied/Michelle Cross)

Cross said she immediately got in touch with officials from the ministry of labour, the ministry of environment and climate change, and from the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC).

"At first, they were very concerned about the reading we got, but that it probably wasn't correct," says Cross.

"It was high to the point where it basically would have killed everyone."

Radiation detection tool out for check-up

Later that night, North Bay Fire Services arrived to re-test the material. But there was a missing piece.

"We keep different radiation detection devices, and the one we use for gamma ray, we just sent out for its annual calibration," says fire chief Jason Whiteley.

"We only keep one because we don't get these types of calls very often."

Luckily, fire services was able to borrow the same equipment from the North Bay Regional Health Centre and get the job done. They found that the initial reading was inaccurate, and that the level of radiation wasn't immediately harmful.

"It's contained within a big metal container filled with metals, which will help block some of the gamma radiation," says Whiteley.

"With the amount that's coming off, you're fairly well-protected just in your normal clothes."

'It could be anything'

The bin is currently still sectioned off in the landfill. Cross says she's discussing pricing and procedures with contractors to dispose of the material.

"It could be a scientific meter used for compaction testing for clay, it could be a bag of smoke detectors, it could be anything that has any kind of radioactive reading," she says.

"Everybody is pretty curious to know what it is."

The CNSC says there have been other cases where a radioactive source was discovered at a landfill or recycling facility. 

"In most cases, when radiation is detected, alarms are triggered by very low levels of radioactivity," a spokesperson tells CBC News. 

"The CNSC has developed alarm response guidelines for use by such facilities to advise on the appropriate response."

Disposing of entire bin to cost thousands

The CNSC tells CBC News they've been in contact with city employees and have secured the services of a radiation safety expert who can identify and dispose of the radiation source.

Cross says it's important to find the actual material that's giving off the radioactivity. Disposing the entire bin would cost the city thousands.

"We're looking at anywhere from $10,000 to $40,000 per cubic metre to get rid of some of this stuff," says Cross.

"We're hoping that because it's such low levels, it falls within some kind of acceptable guideline for an easier disposal procedure rather than having to pay a crazy amount of money for what would be a bag of smoke detectors."