Radioactive contamination of healthcare wastes

Who screens their outgoing and incoming healthcare wastes for radioactive contamination?

Now and again, some alarm activations will arise, not perhaps from inappropriate disposal of some radioactive source or lab waste, but from body fluids contaminated with radioactive materials given to patients for diagnosis or therapy which are excreted over the first few days after administration. That seems almost impossible to prevent.

However, a more significant radiation alarm was raised due to medical waste from Huntington, WV which set off a radioactive alarm for TC-99 at a Kentucky landfill, according to an email found by Huntington NewsNet.

The email from Curt Pendergrass PhD, Supervisor, Radioactive Materials Section Kentucky Radiation Health Branch, said, “I know that Republic Services operates many landfills here in KY and it is a company policy that all Republic landfills have drive through radiation portal monitors. We get our share of alarms for medical wastes in sewage sludge, usually long-lived isotopes such as  I-131 which has a 8 day half-life.

We even had a Republic landfill outside Ashland KY get a medical isotope alarm in a waste load from Huntington, WV not too long ago. That load was found to contain Tc-99m which meant that with a 6 hour half-life, the waste was pretty fresh.”

At that time the two states had an ongoing discussion over wastes from Fairmont, WV too.

The February 5, 2016 email was sent to:

Jason R. Frame B.S. R.T. (R), Chief Radiological Health Program Office of Environmental Health Services/Radiation, Toxics and Indoor Air Division 350 Capitol Street, Room 313 Charleston, West Virginia 25301   Kentucky’s Green Valley Landfill was issued a Notice of Violation on March 8, 2016. According to notes from the government inspection the site was investigated during an unannounced visit to address allegations the landfill was accepting what is known as technicologically enhanced naturally occurring radioactive material.   The facility  accepted and disposed of from Ohio on various dates from May 2015 until January 2016,  26 loads, totaling 368.53 tons of the low-level radioactive waste.   Citizens  of Boyd County Environmental Coalition for two years opposed operations at Big Run and a proposed disposal station in Ashland, Ky.

This area has several landfills in close proximity to one another greatly affecting the community: Green Valley (radioactive waste), Big Run (massive tonnage with rapid production of gases, watered gas wells and excess temperatures causing liner breakdown) and Cooksey Brothers (a Superfund site). Our history shows waste businesses have questionable credibility with noncompliance, violations and illegal acceptance of waste. This coupled with the state’s inadequate funding for on-site inspectors to ensure accountability is more than enough reason not to inflict another waste facility on the citizens of Boyd County.”
Tc99m is the most widely used “medical” isotope so it is perhaps not entirely unexpected that traces will be found in body fluids and clinical (medical) wastes.
Residues will also be found in wastewater s and sewage, as patients excrete the administered does in urine.
However, a discarded and part-used vial of this or any other radiopharmaceutical is an entirely different matter.
Beware! Tc99m has a short 6 hour half-life so a high reading on radiation monitors suggests more than a blood-soaked wound dressing etc, but instead a used syringe or radiopharmaceutical drug vial and probably far higher concentrations. Radiation protection scientists will be present in each hospital using Tc99m but do all staff comply with their guidance and follow the rules?

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