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Hospitals must surrender radium to BARC: Expert

Press Trust Fo India  |  Mumbai 

It has been found that a few hospitals and other users have still not surrendered radium, the most hazardous radioactive source, to the (BARC), even 18 years after the issued a directive to this effect, a former senior AERB official has said.
Those who did not surrender radium (once used in cancer therapy) seem to be exposing themselves and other unsuspecting persons to potential radiation risks.
It is important that those who possess radium now should immediately surrender it to the BARC through AERB, former AERB secretary K S Parthasarathy said.
A family in Kolkata in 2003 sought and obtained help from AERB to dispose off their "inherited" radium stock. They realised it was risky to keep radium (although they kept it with adequate protection) Parthasarathy said.
He added that there could be many more such cases in the country and they all should come forward to surrender.
Extensive study of radium dial painters showed that retention of a microgram of radium in the body caused harmful effects such as cancer.
Radium was the most hazardous radioactive source used in medicine.
AERB had directed its withdrawal and replacement with safer substitute in 1988, taking into account its proven toxicity and the deplorable safety status in hospitals handling radium.
Initially, the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) imported Caesium-137, a safer substitute at a cost of Rs 15 lakh. The Board of Radiation and Isotope Technology (BRIT), a unit of DAE, made suitable kits to load the sources. Later, DAE made Caesium-137 sources indigenously, Parthasarathy said.
So far, the BARC and the Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research helped in the removal and safe disposal of surrendered radium. Their services may not be available indefinitely, he said.
The earliest stock of radium in India arrived at the Radium Institute, Patna, in 1930. Extensive surveys of the hospitals by scientists from the BARC revealed that a sizable fraction of radium stock in the country was leaky, the former official said.
Sources became leaky due to uncontrolled heat sterilisation and inadvertent rough handling. Many needles got bent when physicians applied them directly by piercing tissue. Some radium sources might have developed leaks due to gas pressure developed internally. None of the hospitals used to test their sources periodically.
Handling radium contamination requires special equipment and expertise, he said.
Several incidents highlighted the deplorable safety status in this field. "Once, BARC scientists recovered five radium tubes from a crematorium, a hospital had carelessly released the body of a cancer patient without removing the sources. The unpardonable negligence of those in charge of radium was obvious," he said.

First Published: Mon, August 07 2006. 00:00 IST