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Rapid Response, Dose Assessment, and Clinical Management of a Plutonium-contaminated Puncture Wound

Sugarman, Stephen, L.1; Findley, William, M.2; Toohey, Richard, E.3; Dainiak, Nicholas4

doi: 10.1097/HP.0000000000000821

Internalization of radionuclides occurs not only by inhalation, ingestion, parenteral injection (i.e., administration of radioactive material for a medical purpose), and direct transdermal absorption, but also by contaminated wounds. In June 2010, a glove-box operator at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Savannah River Site sustained a puncture wound while venting canisters containing legacy materials contaminated with 238Pu. To indicate the canisters had been vented, a flag was inserted into the vent hole. The shaft of the flag penetrated the protective gloves worn by the operator. Initial monitoring performed with a zinc-sulfide alpha detector indicated 300 dpm at the wound site. After being cleared by radiological controls personnel, the patient was taken to the site medical facility where decontamination was attempted and diethylenetriaminepentaacetic acid (DTPA) was administered intravenously within 1.5 h of the incident. The patient was then taken to the Savannah River Site In Vivo Counting Facility where the wound was counted with a Canberra GL 2820 high-purity germanium detector, capable of quantifying contamination by detecting low-energy x rays and gamma rays. In addition to the classic 13, 17, and 20 keV photons associated with 238Pu, the low-yield (0.04%) 43.5 keV peak was also detected. This indicated a level of wound contamination orders of magnitude above the initial estimate of 300 dpm detected with handheld instrumentation. Trace quantities of 241Am were also identified via the 59.5 keV peak. A 24 h urine sample collection was begun on day 1 and continued at varying intervals for over a year. The patient underwent a punch biopsy at 3 h postincident (14,000 dpm removed) and excisional biopsies on days 1 and 9 (removal of an additional 3,200 dpm and 3,800 dpm, respectively). The initial post-DTPA urine sample analysis report indicated excretion in excess of 24,000 dpm 238Pu. Wound mapping was performed in an effort to determine migration from the wound site and indicated minimum local migration. In vivo counts were performed on the liver, axillary lymph nodes, supratrochlear lymph nodes, and skeleton to assess uptake and did not indicate measurable activity. Seventy-one total doses of DTPA were administered at varying frequencies for 317 d post intake. After allowing 100 d for removal of DTPA from the body, five 24 h urine samples were collected and analyzed for dose assessment by using the wound model described in National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements Report No. 156. The total effective dose averted via physical removal of the contaminant and DTPA administration exceeded 1 Sv, demonstrating that rapid recognition of incident magnitude and prompt medical intervention are critical for dose aversion.

1Summit Exercises and Training, 111 2nd Av. NE, St. Petersburg, FL 33701;

2MJW Corp., 211 York St. NE, Suite 7, Aiken, SC 29803;

3MH Chew and Associates, 7633 Southfront Rd., Suite 170, Livermore, CA 94551;

4REAC/TS, PO Box 117, Oak Ridge, TN 37831.

The authors declare no conflicts of interest.

(Manuscript accepted 8 November 2017)

© 2018 by the Health Physics Society