Hysteria over radiation release in India par for the course

Tom Marzullo
Once again we have been treated to yet another round of impotent hand wringing over another unplanned release of radioactive materials , this time in India. This is but a continuance of over a half century of such events that are very well known, primarily within the ‘health physics' community. Health physicists are specialists in biological responses to ionizing radiation and the prevention/reduction of unplanned exposures to people and environmental releases. 

The issues at hand are long-standing and concerns very uneven international regulation as well as the all too frequently lax implementation of those regulations.

 

Examples of these shortcomings have been discussed ad nauseum in the Health Physics Society's newsletter for many decades. This sensible and appropriate coverage has yet to be echoed and distributed by more mainstream media outlets that have instead been responsible for what has become de facto traditional conditioning in hysteria for all things ‘radioactive.' It is this conditioning that has led to a regulatory environment in the US that is based on knee-jerk political expediency rather than a realistic assessment of relative risk to people and the environment.

 

A perfect example of these discrepancies can be found in the incredible differences in the allowable levels of uncontrolled environmental releases of identical isotopes in industrial settings compared to that from medical sources. From a pure risk management and scientific point of view these differences are unsupportable, it is due to our nearly religiously held biases that we hamstring ourselves so.

 

Monitoring and controlling the life cycle of devices containing radioactive sources internationally are lax for the simple reason that they are costly to enforce, especially in the third world and emerging societies. Medical devices are frequently disposed of improperly, as shown by a well-known incident in Brazil some three decades ago concerning the release of radioactive cobalt from a medical device being ignorantly used as body paint during Carnivale.

 

Until such time as uniformly appropriate implementation of well-considered, internationally-coordinated controls based on rational assessments of risk are firmly in place and funded we will continue to see these events on a recurrent basis, quite possibly used in expedient devices by terrorists as well. As a former US Special Forces soldier and health physicist I wrote briefly of the issues in 2003 and know both spheres of practice intimately.

 

Our bureaucratic and media-conditioned hysteria to accidental and/or terror-based releases will continue to hamper us during events that are actually minimal-in-fact, from the point of actual personal risk. Quote: "We have met the enemy and he is us."

 

Tom Marzullo


Once again we have been treated to yet another round of impotent hand wringing over another unplanned release of radioactive materials , this time in India. This is but a continuance of over a half century of such events that are very well known, primarily within the ‘health physics' community. Health physicists are specialists in biological responses to ionizing radiation and the prevention/reduction of unplanned exposures to people and environmental releases.

 

The issues at hand are long-standing and concerns very uneven international regulation as well as the all too frequently lax implementation of those regulations.

 

Examples of these shortcomings have been discussed ad nauseum in the Health Physics Society's newsletter for many decades. This sensible and appropriate coverage has yet to be echoed and distributed by more mainstream media outlets that have instead been responsible for what has become de facto traditional conditioning in hysteria for all things ‘radioactive.' It is this conditioning that has led to a regulatory environment in the US that is based on knee-jerk political expediency rather than a realistic assessment of relative risk to people and the environment.

 

A perfect example of these discrepancies can be found in the incredible differences in the allowable levels of uncontrolled environmental releases of identical isotopes in industrial settings compared to that from medical sources. From a pure risk management and scientific point of view these differences are unsupportable, it is due to our nearly religiously held biases that we hamstring ourselves so.

 

Monitoring and controlling the life cycle of devices containing radioactive sources internationally are lax for the simple reason that they are costly to enforce, especially in the third world and emerging societies. Medical devices are frequently disposed of improperly, as shown by a well-known incident in Brazil some three decades ago concerning the release of radioactive cobalt from a medical device being ignorantly used as body paint during Carnivale.

 

Until such time as uniformly appropriate implementation of well-considered, internationally-coordinated controls based on rational assessments of risk are firmly in place and funded we will continue to see these events on a recurrent basis, quite possibly used in expedient devices by terrorists as well. As a former US Special Forces soldier and health physicist I wrote briefly of the issues in 2003 and know both spheres of practice intimately.

 

Our bureaucratic and media-conditioned hysteria to accidental and/or terror-based releases will continue to hamper us during events that are actually minimal-in-fact, from the point of actual personal risk. Quote: "We have met the enemy and he is us."

 

Tom Marzullo