Radiation Blog

When a Road Accident Can Become a Radiation Hazard

09.18.19 | Wednesday | Nofit Amir

Typically, people associate radiation threats with nuclear power accidents or nuclear war. In reality, however, nuclear power and nuclear weapons are red herrings to the real and prevalent threat: radiation sources used in every day in common industries – resulting in thousands of radiation sources transported on our nation’s highways and byways on a daily basis.

Gamma radiation is found within a wide variety of manufacturing and industrial processes. It is used in the medical industry to diagnose, treat and prevent disease; the automobile industry to test steel quality in the manufacture of cars and to obtain the proper thickness of tin and aluminum; by the aircraft industry–to check for flaws in jet engines; in construction projects to gauge the density of road surfaces and sub-surfaces; in oil, gas, and mining operations to map the contours of test wells; and in pipeline companies to test the strength of welds just to name a few.

The ho-hum pervasiveness of dangerous radiation sources is illustrated by Robert Ingram, former Weapons of Mass Destruction Chief in the New York City Fire Department (FDNY), through his account of an incident that happened while he was at FDNY, “A worker of a company – who was the son of the owner – took a radioactive device [a density gauge] in his car from the factory to the work site, but at the end of the day did not return it to the factory, and drove with it in his car straight to Manhattan to go clubbing. He parked in a towing zone, and when he got back from the club in the early morning hours his car wasn’t there.” The FDNY was called to the impounding lot by an employee there, who was notified of the radiation source by the car owner who tried to press him to release the car without charge.

Events involving radioactive material are reported by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) on an almost daily basis, such as the following vehicle accident that occurred a few weeks ago in Prince George’s County, Maryland:

The frequency of transportation accidents involving gamma radiation sources – three such accidents in August 2019 alone – raises concerns that radiological incidents involving radioactive material used in a multitude of day-to-day manufacturing and research processes are inevitable. Thankfully, so far transportation accidents involving radiation sources have not been serious enough to cause a major radiological incident – though in some cases the shielding of the radiation sources was compromised, causing leaks which in themselves can be dangerous. For instance, on May 3, 2019, in Seattle, Washington, an irradiator commonly used in research facilities leaked while it was being made ready for transport. This incident injured 13 and caused the evacuation of the entire building, which (as of this writing) remains uninhabitable.

In their everyday work, first responders must be prepared with easily accessible and effective wearable radiation shielding, which has recently been made possible through StemRad’s patented bone marrow selective shielding technology. This technology, which is being used in nuclear plants and by the military, has also been adopted for use by NASA to protect its astronauts from gamma radiation. StemRad’s selective radiation shielding technology is the only available lifesaving piece of personal protective equipment to safeguard an individual from deadly ionizing radiation and should be made available to those responders who may one day be called on to protect our communities.

Since we cannot be sure that a truck hauling radioactive material will make it to its destination, we can at least provide responders with the best possible protection for an incident when it next occurs.

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