On December 2, 2013, a commercial truck containing a dismantled radiation treatment device was stolen in Mexico. The device contained a significant amount of the radioactive material Cobalt 60. A few days later, the device was recovered. At least 6 people were evaluated for radiation exposure, but it was reported that all tests were negative, indicating that the radioactive material was not released. It appears that a very dangerous radiation disaster was avoided.
When radiological disasters happen, the victims end up where radiologic technologists work, in the hospital. They may be contaminated with radioactive dust or shrapnel in their bodies and on their clothing. As a radiologic technologist, even though you mainly work with X-rays on a day-to-day basis, the other hospital staff and public will have a reasonable expectation that you will have a better understanding than most about how to deal with a radiation disaster safely.
In the US, each state has several organizations and multiple regulations pertaining to radiation safety and a department dedicated to enforcing those regulations. There are many more throughout the world including international organizations. To attempt to list all of the radiation agencies, policies, and laws in the US would fill volumes much larger then this book. Although the web of regulations is tangled, they are an important part of administrative controls.
Ionizing radiation can not be directly detected with the human senses. So we have developed many ways to detect it. Some devices work best for specific types of sources and purposes. Many dosimeters are now classified as self-reading and/or alarming devices. These instruments allow the user to select early warning and alarms for the amount of exposure that they receive and also to be warned of significantly higher than expected radiation levels. They also have digital read outs for instant access to the exposure monitoring data. These devices can also be linked electronically to a database or software program to maintain records and configure the devices.
Radiation detector PM1904 for iPhone. A new type of pocket dosimeter. When preset radiation thresholds are exceeded, device provides LED light alarm. All measurements are recorded in non-volatile memory. Courtesy Polimaster Inc.
To try and give some perspective of stochastic health effects, think of it as getting struck by lightning, or winning the lottery. Getting struck by lightning is a stochastic effect of being outdoors. Flying a kite during a lightning storm will increase your probability of being struck, but even then it cannot be predicted for certain that this will happen. Occasionally, lightning strikes when there is no storm. The national weather service reported 28 lightning fatalities in 2012 in the US. According to the National Lightning Safety Institute, your chances of being struck by lightning are 1 in 280,000. Winning the lottery is a stochastic effect of playing the lottery. According to lottery officials, the odds of winning the Mega Millions jackpot are about 1 in 176 million, making winning the lottery very unlikely for an individual.
Zippy Vonier of Thomasville, Georgia bought a quick pick ticket years ago. Then he kept playing those numbers over and over again, week after week, year after year. On November 27, 2012, Zippy’s numbers matched the winning numbers for the Mega Millions jackpot. He won $50 million.
Radiologic Technologists often hear these terms when radiation is described. The concept of Linear energy transfer (LET), can be difficult to understand unless it is carefully explained. The definition is that LET is a measure of the conservative force acting on a charged ionizing particle travelling through matter. So we aren’t actually talking only about the radiation, we are actually talking about the stuff hit by the radiation too. Linear, meaning the radiation travels in a line. And energy transfer, meaning how much of the radiation’s energy is transferred into the material it’s going through. This concept is relevant to X-ray as compared to other radiation types.
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