Emergency Handling of Radiation Accident Cases

Policy Information
Policy TitleEmergency Handling of Radiation Accident Cases
Responsible OfficeEnvironmental Health and Safety (EH&S)
Policy TypeEnvironmental Health
Policy Number1001
Last Revision Date10/24/2023

Emergency handling of radiation exposure or radioactive contamination cases should not be feared. The handling of these cases is a matter involving common sense, cleanliness and good housekeeping.

Radiation can be detected and measured by a simple instrument-- a Geiger counter. Radiation accident problems have parallels in other conditions handled more frequently by University Police and Ambulance personnel. Since you may become involved with such accidents, there are a few things you should know about radiation.

There are four types of radiation accident patients. The individual who has received whole or partial body external radiation may have received a lethal dose of radiation but they are no hazard to rescue personnel or the environment.  They are no different than the patient that has just received diagnostic x-rays or radiation therapy.

Another type is the individual who has received internal contamination by inhalation or ingestion. He also is no hazard to rescue personnel or the environment. However, the environment may be a hazard if the radioactive particles are still airborne in the work area. Following cleansing of minor amounts of contaminated material deposited on the body surface during airborne exposure, he is similar to the chemical poisoning case. All body wastes should be collected and saved for measurements of the amount of radiation to assist the hospital in determining appropriate therapy.

External contamination of body surface and/or clothing by radioactive liquids or dirt particles presents a third type, with problems similar to vermin infestation. Surgical isolation technique to protect rescue personnel and cleansing to protect the environment must be taken to confine and remove a potential hazard.

When external contamination is complicated by a wound, care must be taken not to cross-contaminate surrounding surfaces. The wound and surrounding surfaces are cleansed separately and sealed off when clean. When crushed dirty tissue is involved, early wet cleansing following wound irrigation may be indicated. Further cleansing, debridement, and definite therapy can await sophisticated measurement and hospital care.

To properly deal with radiation accidents, many experts may be necessary. The initial emergency work performed on campus by law enforcement officers, safety personnel, and ambulance personnel will be supplemented later by physicians, nurses, Health Department personnel and other specialists when the patient is received at the hospital. To assure continuity in the flow of work, it is necessary that each specialist knows what is expected of him as well as a general familiarity of what is expected of others during the radiation emergency.

It is the responsibility of rescue personnel to:

For the Patient

  1. Give life saving emergency assistance if needed.
  2. Secure pertinent information including estimate of radiation exposure from those present at the scene.
  3. Determine if physical injury or open wounds are involved. Cover wounds with clean dressings; use elastic bandage to hold wound covers in place; do not use adhesive tape.
  4. Cover stretcher, including pillow, with open blanket; wrap patient to limit spread of contamination.
  5. Notify hospital by radio or telephone of available information before arrival at the hospital.

For Rescue Personnel

  1. To have performed surveys of clothing, ambulance, etc., before undertaking further assignments.
  2. If contaminated, place clothing in plastic bag and store in container marked "Radioactive Do Not Discard." A container is located in Building 133, the radiation section. Cleanse self by washing in appropriate sinks marked for radioactive use. (If no marked sink is near, use any sink and then label for later contamination survey).
  3. If in contaminated area, all personnel must be surveyed by radiation survey meter; measurements must be recorded. Survey meters are available in most labs where radioactive materials are used and at the Department of Environmental Health & Safety, Decker Health Services Building/ N101. Cleansing must continue until the Radiation Safety Officer or responsible physician indicates person is "clean" and may leave.
    In addition, University Police and/or Safety personnel must be responsible for carrying out the following procedures:
    1. If notified of an emergency involving either radioactive material or the exposure of people to radiation from sources such as radioactive material or X-rays, immediately verify the location and nature of the event, and whether or not people may have been injured or exposed to radioactivity. Then report the facts to the Safety Coordinator and the Radiation Safety Officer. In cases of emergency when the above two people cannot be reached, the incident should be reported to the Broome County Health Department.
    2. University Police and Safety officers are briefed annually by the Radiation Safety Officer and must know where alpha and beta-gamma radiation monitoring equipment is located. It is necessary that monitoring equipment accompany the patient to the hospital since most hospitals are not equipped with radiation monitoring equipment. Additional equipment, other than that located on campus, may be obtained from the Broome County Civil Defense office.
    3. When called to the scene of an accident and the presence of radioactive material is known or suspected, the names and addresses of all people located in the immediate area affected must be obtained. In addition, the names and addresses of all rescue personnel must be recorded for further survey follow up to assure that all personnel are "clean" of radioactive contamination.
    4. When ambulance personnel arrive, they must be informed of the known or suspected presence of radioactive material.
    5. If it is necessary for University Police officers to transport the patient in a patrol vehicle, the patient must be wrapped in a blanket to prevent the spread of radioactive material contamination onto the transporting vehicle and onto those persons handling the injured. The vehicle must be surveyed after use.
    6. Keep bystanders away from the incident area. Detour vehicular and pedestrian traffic as for a major fire.Permit access only to those persons identified with an emergency organization- Harpur's Ferry, Civil Defense, Health Department, etc. and to those who can prove that they have an official responsibility for the site, buildings, equipment or material affected by the emergency. Remember, the names and addresses of all personnel exposed to the radioactive material must be recorded.
    7. If it is known or believed that a radioactive material container has been damaged, it must be assumed that some radioactive material has been released and personnel and property have been contaminated.
    8. University Police and Safety officers can determine that:
      1. There is or is not alpha, beta, or gamma radiation present.
      2. The radiation is low level (e.g. the readings do not exceed the maximum range of the survey meter on lowest scale).
      3. The radiation is moderate level (exceeds range of meter on lowest scale.
      4. The radioactive material is or is not scattered around the area and has or has not contaminated shoes, clothing, uncovered head, arms, legs, equipment, corridors or vehicles.

Additional information helpful for rescue personnel:

Radiation Safety Officer - Michael W. Oakley
Office Phone: 607-777-3589 (ext. 7-3589) / Cell Phone: 607-221-3842

Back-up Radiation Safety Officer - Joseph Bisardi
Office Phone: 607-777-5799 (ext.  7-5799 / Cell Phone: 607-201-7503

Associate Director, Health & Safety - Connie E. Corey
Office Phone: 607-777-2259 (ext.  7-2259) / Cell Phone: 607-343-4926

Radiological Safety Committee:

Lydia Ruffini, Chair - Office Phone: 607-777-5810 (ext. 7-5810) / Cell Phone: 607-351-9057

Broome County Health Department, Division of Environmental Health - Telephone: 607-778-2887

Broome County Office of Emergency Services
Telephone: 607-778-2170

NYS Department of Health
Telephone: 518-402-7590

Location of survey equipment:
Alpha Survey Meter - Environmental Health & Safety, Decker Health services Building IN101
Beta-Gamma Survey Meter - Environmental Health & Safety, Decker Health services Building IN101

Contaminated waste-can location:
Chemical and Radioactive Storage Building, 133