Common hospital device could be a terror threat, LA Times reports

Many hospitals still use a device that experts say poses a major threat to public safety, particularly if it gets into the hands of a terrorist, the Los Angeles Times reports.

The device — an irradiator — is used to sterilize blood and tissue. Irradiators contain a radioactive substance called cesium-137, a byproduct of nuclear power production that disperses through the air and can emit radiation for up to 300 years. 

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission warned in 2008 that the devices should be phased out of hospitals due to the threat they pose. Each irradiator contains enough cesium, if used in a "dirty bomb," to contaminate 10 square miles of Manhattan two times over, according to the report.

But hospital protests stopped further action on the issue after hospital leaders said they couldn't reliably sterilize blood without the devices. 

The hospitals' stance has been challenged by scientific experts and federal agencies such as the Energy Department and Government Accountability Office, which say X-ray irradiators are just as effective, according to the report. 

For now, removing the devices is voluntary, but the safety threat remains. The LA Times reports that the number of devices has increased about 4 percent since 2011, and an accident at a University of Washington research facility this year demonstrated how ill-prepared the healthcare system would be to deal with a large-scale cesium contamination. 

Read more here


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