This story caught my eye because I’m a nurse now, but years ago worked as a motel maid. I can easily imagine a pregnant, minimum-wage worker making beds or sorting laundry in a motel, with no one aware there might be a hazard. Here’s from Associated Press…
WASHINGTON – Reports of thyroid cancer patients setting off radiation alarms and contaminating hotel rooms are prompting the agency in charge of nuclear safety to consider tighter rules.
A congressional investigation made public Wednesday found that patients sent home after treatment with radioactive iodine have contaminated unsuspecting hotel guests and set off alarms on public transportation.
They’ve come into close contact with vulnerable people, including pregnant women and children, and trash from their homes has triggered radiation detectors at landfills.
My objection to nuclear power is that radioactive material causes cancer and birth defects, is difficult to detect, is lethal in tiny amounts and stays around forever. Radioactive iodine is an old treatment, and patients used to stay in the hospital long enough for the radioactive elements to wash out of their system. But now we kick people out of the hospital asap, and no one was considering the danger to the public.
• A patient who had received a dose of radioactive iodine boarded a bus in New York the same day, triggering radiation detectors as the bus passed through the Lincoln Tunnel heading for Atlantic City, N.J., a casino Mecca. After New Jersey state police found the bus and pulled it over, officers determined that the patient had received medical instructions to avoid public transportation for two days, and ignored them. The 2003 case highlighted that NRC rules don’t require patients to stay off public transportation.
• About 7 percent of outpatients said in the survey they had gone directly to a hotel after their treatment, most of them with their doctors’ knowledge. Hotel stays are a particular concern, since the patient can expose other guests and service workers. In 2007, an Illinois hotel was contaminated after linens from a patient’s room were washed together with other bedding. The incident would probably have gone unreported but for nuclear plant workers who later stayed in the same hotel and set off radiation alarms when they reported to work.
That is terrifying. The nuclear plant workers stayed in a hotel where a patient had stayed, maybe slept on sheets that were washed in the same washer with the patient’s sheets, and they set off alarms. What about the maid who stripped the bed? What about the laundry workers? What about other guests in the hotel?
One thing to learn from this is that financial pressure to discharge people from hospitals as soon as they are medically stable has to be countered by a consideration for what happens in the real world.
Another thing to consider is that it’s human nature to cut corners and do the expedient thing. Radioactive material is long-lived, and unforgiving. Despite all the assurances that nuclear power will always be handled safely, mistakes will be made and humans will make errors. This stuff is too dangerous to be an answer to our energy needs.