Radiation and the Pregnant Worker by William O’Connell
There are over two million workers in the United States who are occupationally exposed to ionizing radiation. Since many of these workers are women of child-bearing age, it is not a rare occurrence for a radiation worker to become pregnant. Common sense dictates the dose to the unborn child should be maintained as low as reasonably achievable (ALARA), but it does not necessarily mean the expectant mother must be prohibited from working in an environment where occupational exposure to radiation is possible.
By statute, all U.S. workers exposed to ionizing radiation are limited to a maximum annual radiation dose to the whole body of 5 rem (50 mSv.) Although any exposure to ionizing radiation can theoretically cause undesirable biological effects, the risk of an adverse health outcome from an annual dose of 5 rem is very low. In recognition of the heightened sensitivity of the unborn child to radiation effects, however, regulatory agencies have reduced the maximum allowable in-utero dose to a pregnant worker to 0.5 rem during the gestation period – and no more than 0.05 rem in any month of the pregnancy.
Some may ask “Why don’t we just prohibit the pregnant individual from working with radiation?” The answer to that question is surprising. The Unites States Supreme Court has ruled (in United Automobile Workers International Union v. Johnson Controls, Inc., 1991) that “Decisions about the welfare of future children must be left to the parents who conceive, bear, support, and raise them rather than to the employers who hire those parents.” The Supreme Court also ruled that your employer may not restrict you from a specific job “because of concerns about the next generation.”
The result of the Johnsons Controls ruling and the heightened protection provided by law is only available for workers who voluntarily declare their pregnancy in writing (Declaration of Pregnancy). Such a declaration is the most prudent course of action and provides the maximum protection for your unborn child. Interested workers should set up a confidential consultation with a member of the EHS staff. We will review your occupational radiation exposure history and determine if your job responsibilities put you at risk for a high accidental radiation dose.
For more information, visit our website or call the EH&S Radiation Safety Program at 212-305-0303.
Recycling Laboratory Solvents at Morningside by The Environmental Safety Team
As part of the University’s commitment to Go Green, EH&S has expanded the solvent recovery program with the addition of a second solvent recycler in the Shapiro/CEPSR building. The new machine recovers waste solvents from laboratories in Fairchild, Engineering Terrace, Mudd, Shapiro/CEPSR, Pupin and Northwest Corner Buildings. The program began as a joint venture with the Chemistry Department in 2001, aimed at recycling waste acetone for glass washing purposes. Since then, the program has expanded to include methanol and ethanol and now includes laboratories across several departments campus–wide with upwards of 1,000 gallons of used solvents recycled annually.
As a result of the program’s continued success, the University is saving tens of thousands of dollars on solvent purchases and waste disposal, and has reduced its environmental footprint by diverting solvent waste from traditional incineration disposal methods. Solvent recycling also reduces energy and fuel usage from manufacturing and shipping of new product, as well as pick-up and transport of waste.
It doesn't have to stop there! EH&S is always actively pursuing recycling options for additional commonly used lab solvents, such as hexane and ethyl acetate. If your lab would like to participate in the program visit our website at: http://ehs.columbia.edu/RecyclingLab.html or give us a call; we look forward to working with YOU to expand our recycling program!
Editorial Staff: Kathleen Crowley, Chris Pettinato, Chris Pitoscia
Graphics, Design, Lay-out: Jean Lee
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