The Federal Emergency Management Agency has withdrawn a $90,000 training manual on how to deal with radiation accidents because at least five other federal agencies complained that it is inaccurate and could endanger accident victims.
FEMA awarded the contract to Bradford Communications Corp. of Greenbelt last year. Agency officials acknowledged that they had previously spent $540,000 on two similar studies.
FEMA Director Louis O. Giuffrida was warned in memos from subordinates last year that the Bradford booklet could embarrass the agency because many federal experts believe that it recommends needless delays before treatment of accident victims.
The booklet says officials responding to a nuclear waste spill should, before aiding a victim, don full protective clothing and a self-contained breathing apparatus; conduct a radiological survey of the area; secure the area with physical barriers; remove the victim from the area and decontaminate him by removing clothes and washing his body.
"By then the guy is dead," said one federal official. Critics also said that victims should not be moved in ambulances unattended, as the booklet recommends.
FEMA official Frank C. Sidella told Giuffrida in an internal memo that parts of the Bradford material "will cause undue (life-threatening) delays in providing medical treatment to an injured person." He said it "clearly is not oriented toward saving lives and mitigating injury . . . . In fact, the procedures recommended in the texts are likely to increase radiation and trauma injury to the victim."
The Bradford controversy is being examined by a House subcommittee headed by Rep. Cardiss Collins (D-Ill.).
FEMA spokesman James L. Holton said that the Bradford contract has been placed on hold because of the criticism and that the agency could not recoup the $90,000 already spent. "For all practical purposes, it's dead," he said. "It's not going to be used at all."
Holton acknowledged that FEMA recently sent the booklet to disaster officials in Wisconsin and Connecticut but said that this was "inadvertent" and that the material has been returned.
FEMA's inspector general raised questions about the Bradford award and referred the case to the Justice Department, which declined to prosecute, according to Holton.
He said Bradford was the only one of nine firms whose bid was accepted because it already had a package of training materials "on the shelf." Holton said that local officials were clamoring for help in responding to radiation accidents and that the two studies FEMA commissioned in 1982 would not have been ready soon enough.
As it turned out, Holton said, FEMA is about to substitute those two studies for the Bradford material. Bradford officials were unavailable for comment yesterday.
FEMA attempted to arrive at a consensus for its booklet by having it reviewed periodically by an inter-agency committee representing the departments of Health and Human Services, Transportation, Energy and Agriculture and the Centers for Disease Control. Some committee members said they were unaware FEMA had dropped the manual.
In a typical criticism of the booklet, Assistant HHS Secretary Edward N. Brandt Jr. told Giuffrida last January: "Not only does it contain technical errors and erroneous procedures, it advocates an approach to accident management that could be detrimental to the care of radiation accident victims."
Also last January, Glyn G. Caldwell, CDC's assistant director of epidemiology, told FEMA that the manual was "overly zealous in its protection of rescue personnel. This attitude could easily allow unnecessary harm to the victim by delaying rescue activities . . . . " The report's cover even misspelled Giuffrida's name, he said.
By August, Caldwell still was unsatisfied. "I, for one, do not feel that very much effort was made to correct the errors and deficiencies," he wrote FEMA. "The waste of time and funds on this poorly conceived package seems very wrong, since FEMA has already funded the better approved material," Caldwell added.