Radiation-scan patients may trip airport alarms
New Scientist | July 30, 2005
IF YOU are hot, you'll get stopped. People who have recently had a radiation scan risk triggering security alarms at airports and being detained for questioning.
Patients around the world undergo many millions of medical procedures involving radioactivity every year, including thyroid, bone and heart scans, and iodine therapy. For up to a month afterwards, radiation in their bodies can be detected by sensors meant to prevent people from smuggling ingredients for dirty bombs.
Last year a 55-year-old pilot took thallium-201, which has a half-life of 73 hours, for a heart scan. Within the next six days he was held twice for questioning at one airport, doctors from London's Royal Brompton Hospital have reported (The Lancet, vol 366, p 342).
In the past, thallium patients have set off bank alarms and have been seized at the White House by the US Secret Service. But according to Richard Underwood of Royal Brompton Hospital, the problem is now getting worse because airports are installing more sensitive radiation detectors. Patients who are treated with radioactive isotopes should be warned that they may trigger radiation alarms, he says.