What’s Hot, What’s Not?
What is HOT in your City? Is it the latest restaurant, club or my personal favorite — a new microbrewery? Or could it be the car or truck you just stopped for a traffic violation or the vehicle involved in a crash? How would you know??
Do you know what’s hot and what’s not? I’m not talking the latest fashion or eclectic restaurant — Lord knows I wouldn’t have a clue — I’m referring to what could be radioactive. Do you know where the locations that may have radiation hazards everyday are within your community? There are several ways to find out.
The first would be to check with your Local Emergency Planning Committee (LEPC) to see if they have the locations where radioactive material is being used for commercial purposes. Obvious locations are nuclear power plants, hospitals, imaging centers and sports medicine facilities utilizing the radioactive material for X-rays and diagnosis. Other not so obvious locations would be pharmaceutical offices using radioactive material for medicinal purposes to include pain management primarily in cancer patients as well as in medical manufacturing plants to sterilize their products including syringes, needles, surgical gloves and even heart valves. Hopefully every house contains some radioactive material — americium 241 — located in the smoke detectors on every floor and inside each sleeping area. A second option would be to have the EPA or a nuclear regulatory agency conduct a radiation survey to determine the levels of radiation within the community and then determine the cause of elevated levels above background. These surveys can be conducted by air using a specially equipped aircraft or by ground driving through the community.
What happens if these materials are used for nefarious purposes? Is there a way for responders to detect elevated levels of radiation? Gamma radiation emitters such as cesium and cobalt can penetrate many materials, have long half-lives and are readily available. Since they have powerful penetrating power they do not have to come into direct contact with the target to cause damage. A well placed or well-disseminated gamma source can contaminate an area for a long period of time potentially causing the building or infrastructure to be removed — or contaminate the unsuspecting responder!
There is a device available that can detect radiation for first responders and it should be standard issue for law enforcement tasked with traffic stops and all fire apparatus. It is called a personal radiation dosimeter or PRD.
These devices can be worn on the belt of law enforcement officers making traffic stops to alert them of a potential radioactive source within the vehicle. They can be set to vibrate as to not alert the possible perpetrator but the officer will know to separate himself from the vehicle.
Some models can also be utilized to determine the location of the radioactive source. The PRD’s can also be placed in the cab of the fire apparatus or on the emergency medical bag. The PRD in the cab will alert firefighters to potential radioactive sources within their response district for further investigation. Attaching the PRD to the EMS bag could alert firefighters to potential radiation sources during medical responses either as a cause for the present illness or to uncover a potential nefarious plot.
So think about what’s HOT, and what’s not within your community the next time you are walking up to that semi-trailer that didn’t want to drive around the city because they are hauling hazardous chemicals or possibly radioactive materials. Or the next vehicle accident that you respond to that may not have malicious intent — but is transporting radioactive medical material. How do you know??