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News of the Day ... In Perspective


New York hospitals to be equipped with radiation detectors

The New York health department plans to spend $1.4 million, largely from federal grants, to install radiation detection devices in hospitals. The purpose is to “help medical centers diagnose the thousands of people who likely would flood hospitals after [a ‘dirty bomb’] blast,” the health department said.

Dirty bombs use conventional explosives to scatter industrial or medical-grade radioactive material. While the blast itself would cause relatively few casualties, the dispersal of radioactive material would probably cause serious panic.

The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases announced that it had issued more than $47 million for grants and contracts aimed at quickly diagnosing and treating persons in the area of a dirty bomb attack. Columbia University Medical Center is leading a consortium of researchers who are developing new technologies to screen large numbers of people for radiation exposure, so they could “get quicker treatment” (David B. Caruso, Newsday.com 12/27/05 ).

David Brenner, M.D., professor of radiation oncology at Columbia, said that the development of minimally invasive high-throughput biodosimeters will enable them to reassure the 99 percent of people who won’t need treatment and identify the 1 percent who will. Current screening devices can handle only a few persons per day (www.cumc.columbia.edu).

Biochips to monitor gene expression levels and robotic ways to measure DNA damage are among the components being sought (www.asu.edu).

The national inventory of civil defense instruments for measuring the radiation level in the environment—including dosimeters, Geiger counters, and survey meters—was discarded in 1993 and not replaced. A calibrated survey meter retails for about $300 today.

Additional information:

“Fear Itself,” Civil Defense Perspectives, November 2005

Radiation detectors donated to firefighters and police

“Nuclear Triage and the Dirty Bomb” by T.D. Luckey, Radiation Protection Management, vol. 3, no. 1, 2003

“Former Sailor Shares Insights on Protection Against a Dirty Bomb” by Timmi Toler, The Liberty 2/13/03

A radiation detector that can be home-made by middle-school students, in:Nuclear War Survival Skills by Cresson Kearny. (Also search “Kearny fallout meter” on Google.)

Links: Physicians for Civil Defense and Doctors for Disaster Preparedness


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