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Safe At Home? You’re Safer At A Radiology Lab

March 17, 2011
Written by: , Filed in: Practice Management
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In the Netherlands, at least, you’ll get more exposure to ionizing radiation if you stay home than if you work at a radiology lab.

That’s the conclusion of a new study published online last month in Insights into Imaging (and freely accessible). Researchers at the radiology department at Maastricht University Medical Center in Maastricht, the Netherlands, spent a year tracking the dosage levels for 144 department workers and measuring concentrations of radon gas.

They found that someone holed up in an average Dutch house would be exposed to an average of 1.25 millisieverts of radiation per year from such environmental sources as cosmic rays and radon. In contrast, 133 of the 144 radiological workers received annual dosages of less than 1.25 mSv.

Why? The high ventilation rates and thick concrete walls and floors typical of hospitals, and the protective clothing worn by radiological workers.

The researchers pointed out that the average home radon concentration in the Netherlands is lower than the world average. So, outside the Netherlands, radiology departments may actually be even safer. Or, depending on how you look at it, homes may be even more radiologically hazardous. (The EPA has some suggestions for checking and, if necessary, mitigating the home radon risk.)

The study concluded:

Slightly more than a century ago radiology started with radiation casualties, loss of fingers and other dreadful effects caused by normal (noninterventional) X-ray imaging; now the dose for the same work can be lower than that at home. This is something to cherish (but it should not reduce radiation awareness).

Incidentally, the lead author, Gerrit J. Kemerink, PhD, is also an author of a fascinating look at an 1896 X-ray machine, published online Wednesday in Radiology. Dr. Kemerink and his colleagues actually fired the thing up. Check out the results if you haven’t already.

The report’s abstract concludes: “Images of the hand specimen obtained with the antiquated system were severely blurred but were still awe inspiring, considering the simplicity of the system.”

The equipment was created and used at Maastricht by Heinrich Hoffmans, PhD, and Lambertus Van Kleef, PhD. They began their X-ray experiments just days after Wilhelm Röntgen published his pioneering paper about the discovery of X-rays on December 28, 1895.

Two things about the old machine are amazing:

  1. It delivered what we would consider staggering amounts of radiation—nearly 74 milligrays, compared with about 0.05 mGy for a modern X-ray scanner, and with an exposure time of 90 minutes compared with the modern machine’s 21 milliseconds. Hence the “loss of fingers and other dreadful effects.” (Prudently, Dr. Kemerink and colleagues imaged a cadaver, not a living person.)
  2. More than a century after it was built at the very dawn of the imaging age, it still works. How cool is that?

Related seminar: Radiology Review Course

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