Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Defending from Within - Potassium Iodide

Radiation permeates the spaces in which we live and work.  It bounces off our skin, enters our bodies in food and drink, and even collects in our bones. Usually these ambient radiation levels are low enough to make little difference to our overall health. But in extreme cases of high radiation levels in the environment, steps must be taken to stop radiation from getting inside us. Interestingly enough, there some things we can take into our bodies that can protect ourselves from radiation.  
Potassium Iodide (KI) is a salt that has been used as a tool for radiation protection since the FDA approved it in 1982. The iodine in KI is stable (or nonradioactive) and is an important chemical needed by our bodies to produce hormones. Most of the iodine in our bodies collects in the thyroid, the site of specific hormone production. The danger with this concentration is that radioactive iodine (such as I-131) can be absorbed in place of stable iodine, leading to heightened concentrations of radiation and risk of thyroid cancer. Radioactive iodine is a common isotope given off during nuclear reactions.  Last year’s Japanese nuclear crisis released large amounts of I-131 into the environment. This prompted record-setting sales of KI that suppliers could not keep up with.
65 mg Potassium Iodide Tablets. source
Last month KI came into the international spotlight again when the US Defense Logistics Agency ordered 1,050,000 doses of the pill to bulk up its stockpile1. The reason for the order is probably due in part to increased nuclear threats from North Korea and Iran. In any case, the solicitation prompted massive orders for potassium iodide from spooked civilians. 
Although KI is a useful tool for dealing with exposure emergencies, it isn’t a complete remedy. The compound only lessens health hazards from radioactive iodine, not other radioactive isotopes. Correct dosage is very important as well, as young children need far less KI than adults in emergency situations. For other details, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has a great page on potassium iodide here.
Perhaps the biggest misunderstanding with potassium iodide is that it doesn’t keep radiation from entering the body, it only reduces the possibility of radioactive iodine being absorbed. That’s why other measures need to be in place to issue advance warnings about radiation threats. Radiation detectors such as the MiniRad-D and Rad-ID as currently used by military, public safety, and homeland security personnel to find and identify radioactive threats. 
D-tect Systems is a supplier of advanced radiation and chemical detection equipment sold around the world. www.dtectsystems.com.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Radioactive Scrap Metal – a Global Issue

The world is becoming a smaller place. The accelerating pace of technology is pulling people together through communication, travel, business, and industry. Globalization makes it easier to for us to share – a phenomenon with both positive and negative implications. In the great melting pot of world industry, radiation contamination is proving to be an increasingly harmful side-effect. 

As discussed in the previous post, much of the radiation contamination of consumer goods has been linked to contaminated scrap metal. Metal used in the production of goods comes from a variety of sources and almost invariable contains a large amount of recycled materials – a fact that efficiency and environmental controls demand. The problem is that long-lasting radioactive scrap from sources such as medical equipment, food processing, mining equipment, and even decommissioned power plants, is making its way into smelters. The metal turned out from these contaminated batches spreads to other consumer goods – most of which are never checked for radiation.

A scrap metal foundry.  source

Another aspect that further complicates the scrap contamination problems is size – the scrap metal market is worth over $140 billion1. With so much material in flux, an unreported contamination event can send radioactive material to unknowing manufacturers across the globe.  Although the US has stopped over 120 major radioactive shipments since 20032, there is ample evidence that radioactive scrap is still slipping through the cracks.  For example, a Texas recycling facility accidentally created 500,000 pounds of radioactive steel byproducts after melting metal contaminated with cesium-137 according to U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission records for 2006.

Scrap yards and recycling operations truly are the primary line of defense against rogue radiation but most of these facilities are under no specific federal government or state regulations and reporting is often voluntary if problems are found.

We’ve seen the results of contamination close at hand – at a recent visit to the nearby landfill, we were told that almost every load of scrap metal that comes in sets off radiation detectors and has to be scanned a second time.

To aid in this crucial detection stage of industry and commercial operations, D-tect Systems has designed several radiation detectors that are sensitive and easy to mount.  The Rad-D is currently being used in hospitals, factories, embassies, and waste disposal locations.  It can easily be mounted to scan conveyor belts and integrate with existing security systems.  The Rad-DX, D-tect’s newest product, is smaller and more visually innocuous.  The Rad-DX also has novel mesh-networking abilities that allow an operator to monitor multiple radiation detectors in real time or look at past event logs.   
The Rad-D is easily mounted to a wall or pole and monitors for radiation in real time.
D-tect Systems is a supplier of advanced radiation and chemical detection equipment sold around the world. www.dtectsystems.com.