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Govt hospital ignores radioactive danger

Lok Nayak Hospital has not learnt any lesson despite the Mayapuri radioactive waste leak in April last year, which killed one person and injured seven.

delhi Updated: Aug 03, 2011 23:01 IST
Jaya Shroff Bhalla
Jaya Shroff Bhalla
Hindustan Times

Lok Nayak Hospital has not learnt any lesson despite the Mayapuri radioactive waste leak in April last year, which killed one person and injured seven.

The state government's biggest hospital near India Gate has cartons of abandoned radioactive waste stored at its gynaecology and radiotherapy department.

On April 29, 2010, HT had reported that the hospital's brachytherapy unit has redundant radiation machines lying at its gynaecology department for over 20 years.

These machines are used to treat cervical and breast cancers.

According to hospital sources, at least three large containers of radium and cobalt needles used in interstitial brachytherapy are waiting to be disposed from the gynaecology department.

"Recently, a hospital employee had gone for inspection in the room and he found one of the safe vaults open. Then he alerted the administration,” said a doctor working with Lok Nayak.

In the latest find, two more radioactive sources — a discarded cobalt 60 machine and a dismantled tele-ceasium machine — have been found lying defunct at the radiotherapy department for 15 years. These machines are used in tele-radiation therapy.

"Nobody has bothered to register a request with the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) to dispose them off," said a source from Lok Nayak Hospital's oncology department.

"A bigger worry is that the radiotherapy department has no license to operate its machines for the last two years. Although the machines were repaired, radiotherapists still can't start treating patients as they need AERB's permission," said the oncologist.

AERB wants the hospital to follow all the norms. "We revoked the license to conduct radiation therapies at Lok Nayak in 2009 after we found that they were not following safety norms," said BB Bhattacharya, secretary, AERB.

"Of our three requirements, namely decommissioning the dysfunctional brachytherapy machines and other radioactive sources like cobalt needles, quality assurance certificate and having a radiation safety officer, they have so far met only the last condition in June 2011," said Bhattacharya. “The hospital needs to comply with all AERB norms before its unit can start functioning,” he said.

The hospital, however, is yet to chart a course to clean up the mess. “We are trying to rectify the damage but everything takes time," said a hospital administrative official. The medical superintendent, Dr Richa Dewan, is on a leave.

“The hospital is at fault. While they are ignorant of the extent of damage that can be caused in case of a radioactive leak, they are also unable to treat cancer patients because their radiotherapy department is defunct,” said another source from AERB.

First Published: Aug 03, 2011 22:58 IST