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Patients with Radiation Exposure May Face Extra Airport Screening

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Jun. 29--Summer travel can be stressful.

For people who have had a stress test, bone scan or liver scan, travel might become even more of a strain this summer.

It is possible screeners might single out such patients at security checkpoints and question them about their radiation levels.

In an effort to thwart a dirty bomb or some other terrorist act, security officials have installed radiation scanning equipment at airports, train stations and other transportation checkpoints.

The equipment is sensitive enough to pick up the low levels of radiation some patients might be emitting. Generally, travelers will not be forewarned about the scan.

State officials have received a smattering of reports about people traveling to and from Canada who have been stopped, said Ron Runman, spokesman for the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.

They are alerting patients to the problems they might face this summer.

"A lot of folks from here go to Canada," he said. "We're just trying to get the word out."

If patients set off the equipment, most likely they will be taken aside and questioned, Runman said. For someone trying to catch a plane or a connecting flight, the delay could become quite a problem, Runman said.

The DEP is advising patients to ask their doctors how long they will emit detectable levels of radioactivity and plan their travel accordingly.

"Everyone's essentially going to get rid of this stuff at a different rate," Runman said.

If people have to travel while they are still giving off detectable levels, they should get a note from their doctor.

York Hospital learned about the potential travel problems six months ago. The hospital staff designed cards for patients to carry on their travels.

The hospital printed about 500 cards, and will probably need more soon, said Jean Gresick-Shugsta, a radiation safety officer at York Hospital.

The cards inform security officers that the York Hospital patient recently received treatment and is not a danger to the public. The cards also contain other information, such as the isotope that was used in the treatment, which could expedite the screening process.

In most cases, patients will emit radiation for two to four days after taking a stress test or being given a bone scan, Gresick-Shugsta said.

"We say it has a very short half-life," she said.

Patients, she said, should not be alarmed.

At some checkpoints, Runman said, the equipment will actually inform screeners what sort of radiation they are dealing with.


-- Do not pack or bring prohibited items to the airport.

-- Place valuables such as jewelry, cash, laptop computers in carry-on luggage only.

-- Be prepared to take off your shoes.

-- Avoid wearing items that contain metal.

-- Put all undeveloped film in carry-on luggage. Detection equipment will ruin it otherwise.

-- Declare firearms and ammunition to your airline and place it in your checked baggage. If you wish to lock your baggage, use a TSA recognized lock.

-- Keep available your airline boarding pass and government-issued photo ID.

-- Place mobile phones, keys, loose change, money clips, lighters and similar objects in your carry-on luggage.

SOURCE: Transportation Security Administration Privacy Policy


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