The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has cited George Washington University Medical Center for 12 safety violations because of its poor handling of radioactive materials, officials with the federal commission said yesterday.
The federal government imposed a $2,000 fine for the violations, plus a $500 penalty fee because several of the problems had not been corrected from an earlier inspection in 1980.
"We felt the number of citations represented a breakdown in management control of radiation safety," said NRC radiation specialist Jenny Johansen, one of two inspectors who made an unannounced visit to the hospital on June 1-2. "They citations affect the health and safety of individuals who work with these materials."
Specifically, the hospital was cited for failing to dispose of radioactive materials properly, failure of technicians to wear protective gloves and radiation measuring devices, failure to calibrate testing devices on schedule, as well as allowing technicians to smoke and eat in areas where radioactive materials are used.
Inspectors found, for example, that on Jan. 25, a bag of used clothing and pads, containing radioactive iodine, was removed from a restricted laboratory and placed in the hospital's normal trash. The bag was taken to a public landfill near Lorton, a site not approved for radioactive material. Inspectors also observed in June that radioactive materials were discarded into a regular trash receptacle.
Hospitals use radioactive solutions in scanning patients' bodies for abnormalities. Strict federal guidelines have been established for the handling and disposal of radioactive materials.
Officials from the hospital and its radiation-safety section declined to comment on the government's findings. "We are reviewing the notice," said hospital spokeswoman Irene Haske.
The hospital has 30 days either to pay the fine or appeal the citations to the commission. Karl Abraham, an NRC spokesman, said the hospital was not fined for its three violations in 1980. Those violations involved improper disposal of radioactive materials and technicians not wearing special rings to monitor radiation exposure of their hands.
Johansen said the citations will prompt federal inspectors to visit the hospital more often than the usual inspections every two years. "We will inspect the facility on a much more frequent schedule," she said.
She noted that most hospitals licensed by the federal government to handle nuclear materials have "one or two minute problems" per inspection and said the large number of problems at George Washington hospital demonstrated "repeated bad habits."
The hospital's patients are rarely at risk with these problems, she noted, but said the technicians who work continually with radioactive materials can be exposed to excessive amounts of radiation.
The NRC conducts radiation-safety inspections in hospitals in about half the states. State inspectors who follow federal standards conduct the rest.