Entries in Radioactive (4)


GAO: Hospitals' Failure to Secure Radioactive Materials Ups Terrorism Risk

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Eleven years after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the Government Accountability Office has released a report saying that hospitals have been negligent in securing the radioactive materials they use to treat cancer patients, potentially putting the materials in the hands of terrorists who could use them to make a dirty bomb.

While authorities have identified no specific plot or target for this 11th anniversary of 9/11, the GAO, the investigative arm of the U.S. Congress, has warned Congress about lapses in hospitals, many of which routinely use equipment containing these radioactive materials.

"Although we realize how important these facilities and equipment are, they have to be secured," Gene Aloise, director of national resources and environment at the GAO, said.

Nearly four out of five hospitals across the country have failed to put in place safeguards to secure radiological material that could be used in a dirty bomb, according to the report, which identifies more than 1,500 hospitals as having high-risk radiological sources. Only 321 of these medical facilities have set up security upgrades, according to the GAO review, which found some gaping lapses of security in 26 hospitals.

At one facility, for example, a device containing potentially lethal radioactive cesium was stored behind a door with a combination lock -- but the combination was written on the door frame.

At another, a machine containing almost 2,000 curies of cesium-13 was stored just down the hall from a loading dock near an unsecured window.

At a third, at least 500 people had unescorted access to radiological materials.

"In the hands of terrorists, these [radioactive materials] could be used to produce a simple and crude but potentially dangerous weapon," the GAO says.

According to the report, the National Nuclear Security Administration spent $105 million to complete security upgrades at 321 of more than 1,500 hospitals and medical facilities that were identified as having high-risk radiological sources. The upgrades include security cameras, iris scanners, motion detectors and tamper alarms.

But these upgrades are not expected to be completed until 2025, so until then, many hospitals and medical centers remain vulnerable, the GAO says.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission challenged the GAO's findings, saying that the agency and its partners are vigilant about protecting hospitals and medical facilities, and had developed layers of security to do so.

The American Hospital Association has responded to the report, saying it is carefully reviewing the GAO's recommendations.

"Since September 11, hospitals across the country have been upgrading their disaster plans to meet today's new threats. Hospitals follow the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's regulations on how to secure radiological materials.  In addition, the Joint Commission, which accredits most hospitals, requires hospitals to ensure the safety and security of radioactive materials," the AHA said in a statement.  "Hospitals will carefully study the GAO recommendations.  America's hospitals are committed to working with NRC to strengthen security and protect their community."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Los Alamos Lab Threatened by Wildfire

Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images(LOS ALAMOS, N.M.) -- A wildfire is burning out of control just one mile from the Los Alamos National Laboratory, one of the nation's top national security research facilities where many hazardous and radioactive materials are housed.

Winds appear to be keeping the flames from the critical New Mexico laboratory, but officials fear a change in the winds could be dangerous.

A statement on the Los Alamos National Laboratory's website indicates that "winds generally from the northwest overnight have helped keep the fire from entering Lab property, but forecasts call for a change by mid-day."

Officials said in a statement that all harmful material have been surveyed and properly stowed.

"Overnight, as a precaution, the Lab cut natural gas to technical areas in LANL's remote southwest area. All hazardous and radioactive materials remain accounted for and are appropriately protected, as are key Lab facilities such as its proton accelerator and supercomputing centers," a statement from the lab said.

The lab shut down all operations Monday as firefighting crews battle the raging flames.

"It's been a very long night for the fire crews," said lab director Charles McMillan in a statement.

New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez has called for the Federal Emergency Management Agency to issue a Fire Management Assistance Declaration for the area in order to provide further assistance.

The Las Conchas Fire burst into flames around 1 p.m. on Sunday, according to a report by InciWeb, which provides the Incident Information System and compiles information from government agencies. The report indicates that Sunday's weather conditions included very high temperatures, low humidity and high winds, which all contributed to the inferno. Forecasts Monday call for a change in winds which would jeopardize lab property.

The Lab's Emergency Operations Center remains operational and observation aircrafts have been deployed to monitor the fire's growth and size.

Several nearby areas including Bandelier National Monument, Cochiti Mesa, Las Conchas and campgrounds near the fire were evacuated Sunday. Voluntary evacuations were also issued for White Rock and Los Alamos.

Environmental specialists are stationed in the area and are measuring air quality, but say their main concern is smoke.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Radioactive Iodine Found in Washington State Milk; Levels Safe

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Government officials say radioactive iodine particles have made their way from Japan's crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant to Washington state, infiltrating milk.

Traces of radiation have been detected in samples of milk taken in the state, but the levels are low enough that they do not pose a health threat.

"It's hard to hear about radiation in milk and not be concerned but let me put it in perspective," says Dr. Richard Besser, ABC News' senior health and medical editor.  "The amount of iodine in milk from Spokane is five thousand times below the level of concern for iodine -- five thousand times -- so while it is concerning that there's radiation there, this is not a threat to health."

"The level of radioactive iodine in milk is safe," adds Besser, who says he would drink the milk and give it to his children.

Besser says although the level is safe now, "it's worth paying attention [to] to make sure the levels don't continue to rise," and the government is doing just that -- the Environmental Protection Agency and the Food and Drug Administration are stepping up their radiation monitoring.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


FedEx Finds Radioactive Material Lost in Transit

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(KNOXVILLE, Tenn.) -- After a Thanksgiving Day scare, FedEx on Friday located radioactive material that had fallen out of a box while being shipped from North Dakota to Tennessee.

The missing radioactive rods, used to calibrate hospital CT scanners, are believed to have fallen out of a box Thursday that became wet in transit from a hospital in Fargo to a company that processes the material in Knoxville.

After the federal government issued an alert and several state agencies began investigations, FedEx located the errant container in Knoxville.

"The box had become separated and was set aside to try to match it to the shipper because there was no label on it," FedEx spokeswoman Sandra Munoz said. "Everything was intact and nothing had been tampered with."

FedEx said it routinely ships small amounts of radioactive material, which adhere to state and federal guidelines.

An official with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission described the amount of material, 684 megabecquerels, as "a very small amount" and "nothing that would pose threat to public health or safety."

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio