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Minimizing Radiation Risks
October 29, 2010   
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Can a blood sample reveal traces of large doses of radiation absorbed many years ago?
A group of researchers led by Dr. Maria Kowalska at the Central Laboratory for Radiological Protection (CLOR) in Warsaw have developed a method that makes it possible to determine if workers were exposed to radiation in the past.

The analysis is performed on blood samples, or to be more precise, on the chromosomes in the blood, Kowalska says.

Law enforcement services have used her method in several cases when employees accused their companies of taking inadequate industrial safety precautions. The employees claimed they had been exposed to huge doses of radiation as a result of which they allegedly developed various diseases and radiation-induced complications. Until now there was no way of checking if such allegations were true, according to Kowalska, especially if the companies were no longer operating. Today the researchers at the Central Laboratory for Radiological Protection are able to check if the alleged irradiation really took place.

The method is still being developed and has yet to be patented. The researchers started out by analyzing the most dangerous gamma rays, and are now planning to study X-rays and, possibly, neutron radiation as well. The researchers say they want to study the response of living organisms and check the accuracy of their tests.

The researchers know how to monitor the level of radiation and the radioactivity of manmade materials. They also know how to control radiation and protect people from its potential negative effects.

Materials have different uses depending on how radioactive they are, according to Krzysztof Isajenko, deputy director of the Central Laboratory for Radiological Protection. “The materials we test include those used in the construction industry,” Isajenko says. “To a greater or lesser extent, they are all radioactive, because they contain naturally radioactive elements such as potassium, radium and thorium.” More hazardous materials are used to build tunnels, railway embankments and roads, while the cleanest materials are permitted for use in housing, Isajenko says.

The Central Laboratory for Radiological Protection runs a network of facilities to survey the radioactivity of construction materials. The network comprises more than 30 laboratories that perform analyses of construction materials across Poland. Each lab sends its findings to a central database in Warsaw, which enables the researchers to check how radioactivity changes over longer periods of time.

The Central Laboratory for Radiological Protection also operates an Early Warning System for Nuclear Accidents and Radioactive Contamination. The system is based on 12 stations that continually monitor the level of radioactivity in the air across the country, thus providing data on contamination and potential power plant failures. Each station is equipped with a filter through which air is pumped. The filters are replaced once a week and undergo thorough tests in laboratories.

Piotr Bartosz
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