Thu, Jan 30, 2003 - Page 2 News List

Radioactive iodine leak contaminates hospital workers

HEALTH SCARE The Atomic Energy Council said the employees were contaminated by the urine of patients treated with radioactive material

By Chiu Yu-Tzu  /  STAFF REPORTER

Radiation levels in eight care workers from Taipei Municipal Jen-Ai Hospital who were contaminated with radioactive iodine two weeks ago, were 20 times lower than acceptable levels, the Atomic Energy Council said yesterday.

The contamination was caused by spilt urine from thyroid-cancer patients who received radiation treatment at the hospital, council officials said.

Cancer patients are given radioactive iodine, I-131, either orally or intravenously. After treatment, the patients excrete the I-131 in their urine.

In order to separate radioactive waste, the hospital provides patients with a special room with a toilet that flushes into a storage tank made of lead.

The urine is then kept in closed containers for one or two months in order to allow the radionuclide to decay.

Su Shian-jang (蘇獻章), director of the council's Department of Radiation Protection, said yesterday that the hospital failed to keep the urine that was contaminated by I-131 separate from other waste products, leading to the contamination incident on Jan. 14.

Su said the contamination incident was not uncovered until a local resident sent an e-mail message on Jan.22 to the Taipei City Government's Bureau of Health.

The council inspected the hospital the following day and ordered the closure of contaminated areas.

As of press time yesterday, the radiation-treatment center and the intensive-care unit of the hospital remained closed.

"When the affected floors will be opened depends on our further investigation," Su said.

Su said that the council will carefully review a radiation-safety assessment report on the incident, which is expected within days.

The eight healthcare workers who were exposed to the contaminated urine were examined on Monday by employees of the Institute of Nuclear Energy Research, which is under the administration of the council.

Su said that the level of radiation in one of the hospital workers was 0.05 millisieverts, or 20 times less than the acceptable level set by law, while the levels in the other seven workers were too low to be read.

Su said the council did not find any safety violations when it inspected eight other hospitals last week that offer the same form of radioactive treatment.

Su said that a preliminarily analysis suggests the accidents do not pose a major threat either to the medical personnel or to the environment.

Chiu Shu-shih (邱淑媞), director of the city's Bureau of Health, said yesterday that the hospital's failure to disclose the incident would be investigated.

Chiu added that radiation levels in the hospital had returned to normal background levels as of Sunday.

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