Lawmaker seeks answers on public exposure to radiation after medical procedures

 WASHINGTON, D.C. – Representative Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), chairman of the Energy and Environment Subcommittee of the Energy and Commerce Committee, today asked Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Greg Jaczko, why its rules governing the treatment of patients with radioisotopes allow for much higher levels of public exposure to radioactive materials than those adopted by other countries, and whether these rules are being properly enforced.
I am concerned that current NRC regulations….may result in some unnecessary, unwitting and inappropriate exposures of individuals to dangerous levels of radiation,” Markey wrote in a letter to Chairman Jaczko.

The elimination of the requirement to hospitalize patients with the equivalent of 30 millicuries or more of radiation in their system means that many cancer patients are being treated as outpatients, with potentially dangerous levels of exposure for those with whom they come into contact as a result.”

The Markey letter noted that the NRC revised its guidelines on how to treat patients who receive the radioactive isotope, I-131, to permit the immediate release of most cancer patients being treated. In contrast, most member states of the European Union require hospitalization for patients with more than 22 millicuries of I-131 because “sending patients home immediately after the administration of the radionuclide cannot be justified in most situations because both excretion and external radiation (the patient is a source) will give rise to high doses to other individuals in contact with the patient for a few days,” according to a European Commission document.

 Chairman Markey also expressed concerns about a recent article in the New York Times detailing major errors at the Philadelphia Veterans Affairs Medical Center (VAMC), where a doctor retroactively altered treatment plans on procedures involving use of radioisotopes in order to cover up major medical errors. The NRC regulates the use of all nuclear materials, including the radioisotopes used in medical procedures at the VAMC.

  In the letter, Chairman Markey raised several questions related to patient release criteria and the incidents at the Philadelphia VAMC. Markey asked for answers by Friday, October 30, 2009.

  A full copy of Markey’s letter to the NRC can be viewed at http://markey.house.gov/docs/signed_isotope_nrc_letter.pdf


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