LA County officials cited Martin Luther King Jr.-Harbor Hospital for 18 safety violations, some going back years, including lax monitoring and handling of radioactive materials.
The probe was launched after radioactive material from a diaper set off alarms at a local waste facility last month. Officials believe the diaper came from an intensive care patient who had undergone a radiation procedure. Health experts have called the level of radioactivity "very low" and not a threat to public health. However, it broke safe disposal laws.
Adding insult to injury, the diaper was found with personal patient identification, likely breaking more laws. The hospital has operated for months without a radiation safety officer. Officials also say routine tests for contamination of equipment and in patient rooms have not been done. Proper records were not kept on radiation waste disposal, staff was inadequately trained, and radiation alarms were not set to the correct levels.
In the past, radioactive diapers have been found in garbage in Westchester County, New York, Indianapolis, Ohio and elsewhere. Healthcare is a major user of nuclear technology for diagnostics and treatment, and this story underscores how critical it is for those who handle radioactive substances to remain ever vigilant. Radiation contamination can be extremely insidious, causing genetic damage at non-lethal levels that can devastate generations.
The lax rules in the LA hospital also raise questions of vulnerability to terrorism: if the radioactive materials were so poorly managed, it goes to show how easy it may prove to be for terrorists to obtain dangerous substances from a number of facilities.
Clearly, oversight of dangerous materials needs to be constantly monitored, and this story should suggest how important it is to look for less toxic ways of solving everyday problems, including in hospitals.
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