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By Matt Volz 

Bozeman hospital fined after losing radioactive materia


HELENA — Federal regulators have fined Bozeman Deaconess Hospital $3,500 after hospital officials lost a vial of radioactive material used to treat cancer patients, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission said Monday.

It was one of two recent enforcement actions taken by the commission in Montana.

During an unannounced inspection of the Bozeman hospital's records on Jan. 27, 2010, NRC officials discovered a vial containing samarium-153 was missing.

The substance, which goes under the brand name Quadramet, is used to treat pain caused by cancer that has spread to bones.

Regulators noted a second violation during that inspection when a technician left a nuclear medicine laboratory door propped open and unsecured, hospital officials said.

The NRC concluded that hospital officials willfully failed to secure radioactive materials from unauthorized removal or access, and that the hospital failed to maintain constant surveillance of radioactive material.

The regulatory agency said hospital employees, including its radiation safety officer, had previously raised concerns about lab security that were not addressed, causing the NRC to deem the violations "willful."

The hospital agreed to a May 25 mediation session that was held at the NRC's Arlington, Texas, office. After that session, hospital administrators agreed to pay the fine, hire an outside organization to better train staff and managers and create procedures to encourage workers to raise radiation safety concerns.

The vial was never recovered, but it does not pose a threat, NRC spokesman Victor Dricks said.

"It was a very small quantity of material, it wouldn't pose a hazard to anyone, he said.

Samarium-153 has a physical half-life of 1.9 days, so the public was never in any immediate danger of harm, Bozeman Deaconess said in a statement in response to a query by The Associated Press.

Hospital officials regret the errors and have fully cooperated to make sure it doesn't happen again, the statement said.

"Immediately following the 2010 visit, policies and procedures were modified to ensure all nuclear medicine employees fully comply with the handling of licensed material," the statement said.

Also Monday, the NRC proposed fining Luzenac America Inc. $8,500 for sending a mining gauge containing radioactive material to a Bozeman recycling center that was not authorized to receive it.

Luzenac, owned by mining giant Rio Tinto Minerals, has a talc mining operation in nearby Three Forks.

Employees of the recycling center told the NRC about the gauge when they found it in their scrap yard in December.

Nobody was exposed to an excessive amount of radiation, the federal regulator said.

The company has since bought handheld scanners for sampling scrap metal for radioactive materials before sending them to the recycling center.

The company has 30 days to either pay or challenge the fine.

A spokeswoman for Rio Tinto did not immediately return a call for comment Monday.


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