When an emergency (fire, explosion, chemical exposure, or other event that endangers life and/or property) is accompanied by the presence of radioactive material and radiation, it is important to deal first with those hazards that have the greatest potential impact. Fire, injuries, and all life-threatening situations take precedence over radiation issues.
In an academic setting, the quantities and types of radiation used are generally at levels low enough that fire and medical response personnel can deal with severe threats to life, health, and/or property without concern for the radioactive materials and radiation present. Nonetheless, responders should use their usual personal protective equipment (PPE), be monitored for radioactive material contamination, and be decontaminated (as necessary) after addressing the problem at hand and before leaving the scene.
The RSO must be notified immediately of any of the following situations:
- Skin contamination
- Ingestion of radioactive material
- Unexpected personnel exposure
- Severe contamination of equipment or areas
- Spread of contamination, or difficulty cleaning up a contaminated area
- Loss or theft of radioactive materials or radiation producing machines (RPMs)
When in doubt, call EH&S at (510-642-3073).
Spills or unplanned releases of radioactive material must be promptly controlled and immediately reported to EH&S RSO. The RSO will determine needed actions and whether the incident must be reported to the CDPH.
10.1. Personnel Contamination
In the case of personnel contamination, immediately call or have someone call EH&S 510-642-3073 to ensure that the RSO is notified. During off-hours, call 911 from a campus phone or 510-642-3333 from your cell phone to reach the UCPD emergency line and ask for radiation safety assistance.
In the case of a radiation accident, follow these steps:
- Treat medical problems first and administer first aid as appropriate. Ask others in the area to assist. First aid and prompt medical treatment take precedence over decontamination. Usually, decontamination can wait until the victim is in stable condition.
- Immediately remove contaminated clothing and flush skin with water.
- For skin contamination, follow these decontamination procedures:
- Wash the contaminated area using a mild soap and lukewarm water. Do not use hot water or break or abrade the skin. Do not use brushes that could damage the skin.
- If the contamination is widespread, a shower with mild soap and warm water will usually remove most of the contamination. After the shower, survey the person to determine the effectiveness of the decontamination and to localize any remaining contamination.
- The RSO may recommend additional or specialized decontamination efforts if further decontamination is needed.
- Bag contaminated clothing and materials. EH&S will provide details on decontamination or disposal.
10.2. Procedures for Major Spills
Notify everyone not involved in the spill to leave the immediate area but assemble nearby. Call or have someone call EH&S RST at (510) 642-3073. During off-hours, call UC Berkeley Police at 911 (510-642-3333 by cell phone) and ask for radiation safety assistance.
- Assess everyone who could possibly have been contaminated.
- Once potentially contaminated persons have been surveyed and found free of contamination, record their names, and release them. When feasible, use reasonable effort to confine contamination.
- Prevent inadvertent entry or re-entry into the contaminated area. Post signs at all entrances to the room or area warning others that a spill of radioactive material has occurred. Post similar signs in the general vicinity, indicating the location of the spill.
- Wait for EH&S direction before taking further action. Follow the instructions of the RSO and/or EH&S staff regarding decontamination techniques, surveys, provision of bioassay samples, requested documentation, etc.
- Do not allow work to resume in the area until approved by the RSO.
- Place contaminated clothing and materials in bags labeled with contents, radioisotope, and date.
10.3. Procedures for Minor Spills
- Notify all persons in the area that a spill has occurred.
- Allow only necessary personnel to enter the area.
- Put on personal protective equipment (PPE) as necessary.
- Call EH&S (510-642-3073). During off-hours, call 911 (510-642-3333 by cell phone) and ask for radiation safety assistance.
- Prevent the spread of contamination by covering the spill with absorbent paper. (If solids are spilled, paper should be dampened.) Use absorbent paper as needed to clean up the spill.
- Perform frequent surveys with an appropriate meter or machine to determine the effectiveness of the decontamination process.
- During and after cleanup, carefully fold the absorbent paper with the clean side out and place in a labeled plastic bag. Put contaminated gloves and any other contaminated disposable material in the bag.
- Survey the area with a meter or other appropriate technique. Check the area around the spill for residual (sometimes called “fixed”) contamination.
- Survey all persons involved in the decontamination process; check hands, clothing, and shoes for contamination. Once personnel have been surveyed and found free of contamination, record their names, and release them.
- If personnel contamination is detected, follow the procedure described above under “Personnel Contamination.”
10.4. Procedures for Radiation Producing Machine (RPM) Accidents
- TURN OFF MACHINE. If possible, de-energize circuit breakers.
Call or have someone call EH&S RST (510-642-3073). During off-hours, call 911 (510-642-3333 by cell phone) and ask for radiation safety assistance.
- Treat medical problems first and administer first aid as appropriate. Treatment of injuries takes precedence over radiation exposure.
- Notify the RH and others in the area.
- Record all pertinent information about the incident, including operating voltage and current, exposure time, and distance from the radiation source. Provide this information to the RSO.
Note: Exposure to the primary beam of many x-ray machines can produce significant biological effects that are not immediately apparent. The RSO must be immediately notified and will initiate consultation with a competent medical representative to assess dose and ensure proper medical follow-up.