AGTA Issues Paper on Irradiated Blue Topaz

The American Gem Trade Association on Thursday issued a white paper on Irradiated Blue Topaz and the recent move of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission to step up enforcement of irradiated gemstones. The paper reads as follows:
The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has recently stepped up enforcement of irradiated gemstones. As a result, several major jewelry chains and department stores are considering, or have already stopped selling blue topaz.

Prior to 1990, the NRC introduced regulations specifying that any neutron-irradiated gemstone must be imported by a licensed firm that can properly test for radiation. Unfortunately, there are no jewelry industry laboratories currently with equipment or a license to test to NRC requirements, nor are there licensed importers of blue topaz.

Current rules affect mostly blue topaz in the darker colors. Some light blue topaz is LINAC (linear accelerator) treated, and thus exempt from the rules. However, in the next few months, new rules will regulate LINAC treated gems. These will include requiring an NRC license for the importation of all blue topaz, red tourmalines, many beryls (treated blue, yellow, and pink colors, but not emerald), kunzite and irradiated diamonds. Cobalt-60 (gamma ray) irradiated gems such as various quartz colors, yellow sapphire and pearls are not affected by the upcoming regulations.

It is estimated that blue topaz generates over a billion dollars per year in sales. The upcoming expanded regulations encompassing other gems will greatly increase the amount of business at risk.

Risk Assessment
To the best of our knowledge, there has not been a single confirmed report of cancer or radiation poisoning as a result of an irradiated gem over the past few decades. We have no reason to believe that any significant quantity of dangerous gemstones is in the market today. However, since there have been a handful of sightings over that period of gemstones with potentially harmful radiation, we are taking the prudent step of reminding all AGTA Members that if they handle deep blue topaz, they should do their own radiation checks.

NRC rules are more conservative than in any other country; the rationale being that, since gems are luxuries used strictly for adornment, they require tighter regulation than items regarded as necessities. For example, rules for glow-in-the-dark wristwatches permit higher radiation levels, since they are considered necessities, rather than luxuries (i.e., a watch provides the time of day).

A Geiger counter check of blue topaz is inconclusive. Some topaz within NRC regulations may show some above-background radiation with a Geiger counter. Some topaz without any indications of radioactivity above-background will be in excess of NRC regulations. A Geiger result indicating significant above-background radiation is suspicious, and should not be released or sold until an accurate analysis of the radioactivity is made. Please note that the NRC rules only apply to treated gems; some natural gems may have detectable radiation and are legal.

NRC rules do require documentation of all irradiated gems. A paper trail of sources must be maintained, similar to Kimberley Process. All members are strongly encouraged to identify their inventories by vendor and date of importation. Typically, older stocks will already have had radioactive decay, and may be easier to sell or document as safe. Intermingling inventories may complicate the ability to sell existing stocks. All new imports (legal or not) must be clearly identified by vendor and date, as should sales to manufacturers and retailers.

The Future
Rick Krementz, President of the AGTA, will be meeting with the NRC in Rockville, Maryland on Thursday, July 26, 2007. The AGTA’s mission is and has always been to advance and protect the interests of colored gemstones and AGTA Members in today’s jewelry industry. Towards that end, the AGTA is working with the NRC and other gem industry associations to better clarify the current status of blue topaz and other irradiated gems.
The AGTA goals are:

* To facilitate the measurement of radioactivity in present inventories so current irradiated gems may be sold through to consumers safely
* To encourage compliance with NRC rules and protect the industry’s reputation
* To assist AGTA Members in regulatory issues related to irradiated gems
* To facilitate the future legal importation of irradiated gems via NRC licensing, laboratory support, education, and other means
* To influence the NRC rules to be appropriate to our industry, so they permit the cost-effective importation and sale of gems safely to the consumer 

While we cannot make decisions for individual firms, we reiterate that some large chains have halted the sale of pieces containing neutron-irradiated blue topaz. It seems only prudent that Members would likewise temporarily suspend importation in such stones until their status and safety can be clarified.

The NRC has stated that they do not intend to take enforcement actions against retailers. Therefore, there is no reason for blue topaz products to be returned to vendors.

Starting in late 2007 or early 2008, additional regulations on irradiated gems will go into effect. AGTA will continue to keep Members apprised of these and other rules impacting the trade in such gemstones.

Nothing in this document should be considered legal advice. The information presented is informational only, and while believed to be accurate, carries no guarantee of reliability.

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