Area declared free from radiation

PETALING JAYA: The area surrounding a radiopharmaceutical facility in Subang Jaya where workers were detected with radioactive materials has been declared free from contamination.

Environment, Science, Technology and Innovation Minister Datuk Seri Dr Maximus Ongkili said the flourine-18 contamination was contained to the laboratory in the premises and that the entire facility would remain sealed until Atomic Energy Licensing Board (AELB) gave the green light.

"The action of the board serves as a warning to facilities, individuals or licence holders to always adhere to the highest safety standards as stipulated in the AELB Act and related regulations that govern technologies using atomic energy," he said, adding that the four workers affected by the radiation two weeks ago had been decontaminated.

"Nevertheless, the total radioactive dose received by the four individuals was much less than that injected into a patient for a PET scan imaging procedure," he said.

Dr Ongkili was responding to demands from several MPs to provide more information on the leakage, which was highlighted by the media on Wednesday.

Dr Ongkili said fluorine-18, which has a half-life of 110 minutes, was normally injected into cancer patients at about 620,000 counts per minute.

"The workers were only contaminated with 1% of the dose administered to cancer patients.

"Hence, it would not cause any health effect," he said, stressing that they were also not at risk of further cross-contamination.

He said the contamination was detected as the workers were passing through a portal monitoring system placed at the main gate of the AELB headquarters when they went there on June 2 on licensing matters.

"The readings varied between 30,000 and 50,000 counts per minute, which were approximately 400 times the normal background reading that is between 70 and 100 counts per minute," he said.

Dr Ongkili said although the AELB had found no more radioactivity at the pharmaceutical facility, they had ordered the production area of the premises sealed.

"This is to ensure that the company satisfies the requirements for improved procedures and enhanced monitoring to prevent any recurrence of such incidents," he added.

He said the company had on June 6 submitted a report on, among others, its existing protection programme, modification of premises to enhance safety, procurement of additional monitoring system and retraining of workers on radiation protection.

Dr Ongkili said he and the board were also deliberating on the application by the company to remove the seal.

-The Star/Asia News Network