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Sunday, August 7th, 2011, 4:11 pm

Radiation and Smoke in the Workplace


Having discussed the subject with half a dozen people over the past week or so, it seems clear that the threat of radiation is underplayed by companies that make business out of it (X-ray for the most part, if not nuclear energy too). The crux of the argument is that, just as people are increasingly not allowed to smoke in pubs due to people who work there (not always out of choice), in places where radiation is abundant, e.g. scanning facilities in hospitals and airports, people’s right to deny and avoid exposure to radiation should be respected. In companies where CT scanners are tested, even software developers are required to be exposed to radiation (my siblings) and sign a sort of waiver that removes liability. In more and more airports not only suitcases are subjected to X-ray treatment but humans too; they are not even given alternative options, except not work (in the former case) or not fly (in the latter case). The attitude ought to change. As someone with doctoral qualifications in the area of medical imaging, I occasionally try to raise the issue (not confront) those who are victim of this status quo (e.g. hospital workers who spend hours in particular rooms and particular airport staff standing adjacent to high-power scanners), but it is not easy to reach a solution which does not leave both sides with relative discomfort.

The solution one might propose here is a legal requirement for companies to bear full liability in case staff develops cancer (tumours that can be shown to have their causality within the workplace) and people who enter X-ray scanners should be both advised/alerted and also require to sign a form of waiver in case an X-ray-free gate is not made available at an airport (like in Manchester Airport). It is bad enough that the problems with cellphones are de-emphasised; here we talk about modalities whose effect is orders of magnitude higher and in late 2009 a study was published in a respected journal having managed to show the correlation between CT and cancer to be far greater than previously stated, possibly in industry-funded studies.

The GE-owned MSNBC used to tell us how wonderful and safe nuclear energy was. That was before the GE-designed Fukushima facility suffered a disaster that would probably kill hundreds of thousands, over time, with agony.

People used to think smoking was harmless. People used to smoke in places where non-smokers were the majority. Why is radiation still treated differently?

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