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August 28, 2010

Two packages that sat under the concierge desk in the lobby of Washington’s Walter Reed Army Medical Center for two days may have exposed people in the area to radiation, reports The Washington Post.

On May 1 of this year, two packages addressed to the hospital administrative officer and carrying radioactive materials for treatment and diagnosis of diseases such as cancer arrived at the concierge desk in the hospital lobby. Staff placed the packages under the desk and that is where they remained for 44 hours while giving off radiation. The administrative officer realized there was no delivery of the packages and looked for them, failing to locate them. The next day staff again looked for the packages, finding them under the concierge desk.

Officials at Walter Reed found that the packages emitted radiation levels at the concierge desk of 2 millirems an hour, which exceeds allowable limits.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) is investigating the mishandling of the radioactive material and has scheduled a hearing for September 1.

“There were two apparent violations that involved a failure to control access to radioactive materials and a failure to conduct operations so that any dose of radiation in an unrestricted area wouldn’t exceed the limits in our regulations," NRC spokeswoman Diane Screnci told NBC Washington.

Officials said the amount of radiation was low and posed no risk to the public. According to the NRC, Americans receive a radiation dose of about 620 millirem each year. In comparison, a pelvic x-ray exposes a patient to70 millirem.

While the amount of radiation emitted may have been small, the issue here is safe handling practices of radioactive materials at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. The Washington Post article reported that a similar lapse occurred last year.

A hospital spokesperson told the Associated Press that the facility has, “Reinforced its nuclear medicine safety program and retrained staff on the proper handling of radioactive material.”

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