Health Physics News

May 4, 2018

Health Physics Program Director, Timothy Jorgensen, will receive the American Institute of Physics’ 2017 Science Communication Award for his book Strange Glow: The Story of Radiation (Princeton University Press, 2016)The award will be presented at the American Association of Physicists in Medicine (AAPM) annual meeting on July 31, 2018, in Nashville, Tennessee. Dr. Jorgensen will also give a presentation on his book and will talk about the challenges of communicating radiation risks to the public.

March 16, 2018

The Georgetown University Health Physics Program is proud to announce its newly signed Educational Partnership Agreement with the Department of the Navy at its Naval Surface Warfare Center (Carderock Division). The purpose of the agreement to aid in the educational experiences of Georgetown students, in the area of health physics research, by providing a mechanism by which students can benefit from the unique facilities, technology, and expertise available at Carderock, which is located just a few miles from the Georgetown campus. Carderock supports the health physics work of the U.S. Navy.

February 7, 2018

Health Physics student Sofia Ioannidou will present the following paper at the Health Physics Society Annual Meeting in Cleaveland, Ohio: Optimization of adult abdominal CT protocol at Medstar Georgetown University Hospital using iterative reconstruction algorithm levels by S. Ioannidou, C.A. Mitchell, T.J. Jorgensen, L. Benevides, D.A. Smith.

August 31, 2016

The Health Physics Program welcomes Prof. David Smith, who will be teaching Environmental Health Physics this semester. He is replacing Prof. Gary Phillips as course director. Prof. Phillips has retired from teaching at Georgetown to return to his home state of Kansas. We wish him well in his retirement and we thank him for his many years of teaching in the Health Physics Program. (See Prof. Smith’s profile on the Faculty page.)

August 1, 2016

Prof. Jorgensen published a paper entitled The New “Normal”: Stakeholders and Radiation Protection Limits in a Post-9/11 World in the August 2016 issue of Health Physics. Health Phys. 2016 Aug;111(2):227-31. doi: 10.1097/HP.0000000000000457.

June 29, 2016

Prof. Jorgensen delivered a talk, “Looking Back on Chernobyl: A Public Health Perspective”, at the Environmental Network Workshop held at the Kyiv-Mohyla Academy in Kiev, Ukraine. The workshop included a two-day tour of the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone.

March 28, 2016

Prof. Jorgensen gave a presentation on “Predicting the Health Consequences of Nuclear Terrorism Scenarios” at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington DC.

March 9, 2016

Prof. Jorgensen’s new book, Strange Glow: The Story of Radiation, released by Princeton University Press to “glowing” reviews. Kirkus Reviews (starred review): “In this spirited, thorough investigation into radiation, [Jorgensen] delivers narrative science at its best, providing a propulsive story, each piece building on the next in a series of progressive revelations. … With a deft touch, the author delves into [the science, yet] he displays a soft sense of humor while covering a serious topic. A seismic piece of scientific inquiry, top shelf in narrative style and illumination.” Science Magazine (AAAS): “Unbiased, comprehensible information on radiation risk is hard to come by. Jorgensen’s book Strange Glow: The Story of Radiation fills this gap, using history to explain how we encounter radiation and how it affects us. … It provides readers with the basic facts so that they can make decisions about the risks they want to live with.”

January 8, 2014 (CBS News)

Launch of an Orbital Sciences Antares rocket carrying an unmanned Cygnus cargo ship bound for the International Space Station was scrubbed Wednesday because of high radiation levels in the wake of a major solar flare earlier this week. Liftoff from Wallops Island, Va., is on hold until at least Thursday pending additional analysis of the space weather environment. The only other launch delay in recent memory that was blamed on space radiation occurred in 2001 when a powerful solar flare prompted mission managers to scrub the launch of an Athena rocket from the Kodiak Launch Center in Alaska. In a statement, the company said the scrub was ordered “due to an unusually high level of space radiation that exceeded by a considerable margin the constraints imposed on the mission to ensure the rocket’s electronic systems are not impacted by a harsh radiation environment.” NASA said the lab’s six-man crew was not in any danger.

November 22, 2013

Cathy Ribaudo, Asst. Director of the Div of Radiation Safety at NIH will be giving a talk at the next dinner meeting of the Baltimore/ Washington Chapter of the Health Physics Society (Dec 11, 2013), in Rockville MD. The Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) has invested in a wide range of resource development to support radiological and nuclear incident response. This talk will review some of the noteworthy resources that are available to public health officials, will introduce some initiatives that are being developed at the HHS level, and will provide an overview of HHS responsibilities for public health emergencies.

October 27, 2013 (redOrbit Wire Reports)

Airline pilots absorb approximately as much radiation over the course of a year as a nuclear power plant employee, NASA officials revealed on Friday. In fact, according to the US space agency, pilots are classified as “occupational radiation workers” by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) because they fly at heights where there is little atmosphere to protect them from cosmic rays and solar radiation. For example, NASA officials said that during a typical polar flight from Chicago to Beijing, pilots are exposed to as much radiation as two chest x-rays. “To help airline companies safeguard passengers and personnel, NASA is developing an experimental tool to predict exposures in real time,” the space agency said. The project, which is being headed up by Mertens, has been dubbed NAIRAS or “Nowcast of Atmosphere Ionizing Radiation for Aviation Safety.”

August 21, 2013 (National Geographic)

In the latest crisis to strike the Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear power plant in Japan, operator Tokyo Electric Power (TEPCO) has discovered that 300 tons (nearly 72,000 gallons) of highly radioactive water has leaked from a holding tank into the ground over the past month. The development comes on top of TEPCO’s admission last month that an estimated 300 tons of radioactive groundwater, which picks up small amounts of contamination when it flows through the damaged reactor buildings, has been leaking into the Pacific Ocean every day.

February 16, 2013 (Wall Street Journal)

Chinese authorities are moving to tamp down public worries about radiation less than a week after North Korea set off a nuclear test not far from their common border. The Chinese government released radiation readings on Thursday and Friday — and then again late Saturday — in the northeastern part of the country that showed no signs of elevated levels. Based on weather forecast data provided by the National Meteorological Information Center, “even if a radiation leak takes place, it will mainly head toward the southeast and won’t affect our country at the moment,” the ministry said in an initial response on its website Wednesday, one day after North Korea carried out its third nuclear test.

January 8, 2013 (CNN)

Residents of Washington may be surprised by a helicopter flying low overhead this week, endlessly prowling the city to map its radiation signature. The helicopter is crisscrossing the city, like a lawn mower covering a lawn, flying as low as just 150 feet off the ground. CNN spotted it northwest of downtown on Monday, flying low over the buildings, back and forth, east to west. The purpose: to produce a baseline scan of the natural radiological readings in the capital. Once the map is done, any new anomalies – or suspicious radioactive activity – could be more easily detected. If authorities ever need to find stolen radioactive material in the capital or a dirty bomb, they would want to be able to separate out any new spikes in the radioactivity readings.

December 7, 2012 (

The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) is the first state health agency in the country to endorse a pair of coordinated, nationwide education campaigns aimed at improving the safety of x-rays and other medical imaging technology. MDH will be collaborating with health care providers and professionals in the state to spread the message of ImageWisely, which deals with medical imaging for adult patients, and ImageGently, which focuses on the needs of children. ImageWisely and ImageGently focus on two different aspects of medical imaging, in order to minimize the radiation dose needed to meet the patient’s medical needs.

December 3, 2012 (BBC News)

Dentists have been warned against using a hand-held X-ray machine on patients as it poses a significant health risk. The cheap imported machine, known as the Tianjie Dental Falcon, exposes users and patients to 10 times the normal level of radiation, increasing their risks of cancer and organ damage. The Medicines and Healthcare Regulatory Agency of the United Kingdom is asking National Health Service and private dentists to dispose of these devices.

November 20, 2012 (CBS News)

Radiation levels at the Martian surface appear to be roughly similar to those experienced by astronauts in low-Earth orbit, NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity has found. The rover’s initial radiation measurements — the first ever taken on the surface of another planet — may buoy the hopes of human explorers who may one day put boots on Mars, for they add more support to the notion that astronauts can indeed function on the Red Planet for limited stretches of time. “Absolutely, astronauts can live in this environment,” Don Hassler, of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colo., told reporters during a news conference today (Nov. 15).

October 30, 2012 (Reuters)

Hurricane Sandy slowed or shut a half-dozen U.S. nuclear power plants, while the nation’s oldest facility — New Jersey’s Oyster Creek Plant — declared a rare “alert” after the record storm surge pushed flood waters high enough to endanger a key cooling system. The alert came after water levels at the plant rose by more than 6.5 feet above normal, potentially affecting the “water intake structure” that pumps cooling water through the plant, an NRC spokesman said. Those pumps are not essential since the reactor has been shut for planned refueling since Oct. 22. However, a further rise to 7 feet could submerge the service water pump motor that is used to cool the water in the spent fuel pool, potentially forcing it to use emergency water supplies from the in-house fire suppression system to keep the rods from overheating.

October 25, 2012

New Hampshire officials are testing fish for elevated levels of radiation following a tritium leak at Entergy Corp.’s Vermont Yankee nuclear plant in 2010. Tests done in May at Hermit Lake in Sanbornton found all largemouth bass were well below the FDA level of concern for consumption. Additional samples from other waters were taken last month. Those results are pending. A final sampling is expected to be completed in May 2013. The testing will also address concerns about Strontium-90 in fish following the tritium leak. That year, the state of Vermont collected and tested a fish eight miles upstream from the plant that was found to have a slightly elevated level of the radioactive isotope. However, the level was below the FDA’s safe limit for fish consumption.

October 19, 2012

A new study finds fluorescent light bulbs could pose a health risk. Researchers at Stony Brook University found energy-efficient bulbs emit high levels of harmful ultraviolet radiation. They randomly tested the bulbs and found the rays were so strong that they could actually burn your skin on the cellular level. “The results were that you could actually initiate cell death,” according to Marcia Simon, professor of dermatology at Stony Brook. That means exposure to the bulbs could lead to premature aging and cancer. In every bulb that researchers tested, they found the protective coating around the phosphor, which creates the light inside the bulb, was cracked, allowing dangerous UV rays to escape.

September 25, 2012

U.S. Army Reserve (National Guard) units in Texas have been mobilized to use their radiation detection equipment to find a missing (since September 11th) piece of radioactive natural gas drilling equipment. The item in question is 7-inch long rod containing radioactive elements (americium-241/beryllium). If someone stayed in close proximity (within 7 meters/21 feet) to the unshielded rod for several hours they would begin to suffer some radiation poisoning. The rod went missing somewhere along a 200 kilometers stretch of desert highway in southwest Texas and the oil drilling company crews sent to find the rod failed to detect it. The military grade radiation detectors used by the National Guard should be able to find it. The rod is clearly marked as radioactive.

September 19, 2012

The Alliance for Radiation Safety in Pediatric Imaging has announced the start of the “Back to Basics” phase of their “Image Gently” campaign. This a a campaign to remind health practitioners that children are more sensitive to radiation and that special considerations should be made to keep their doses as low as possible during radiation diagnostic procedures. The campaign provides specific technical recommendations for keeping children’s doses low during imaging.

September 12, 2012

A study published in the British Medical Journal reports that women with high genetic risk for breast cancer may be at increased risk of radiation-induced breast cancer. This large cohort study of 1,993 women BRCA1/BRCA2 carriers showed that they had higher than expected radiation risk for breast cancer. The investigators postulate that a deficiency in DNA repair may be the mechanism, and suggest that MRI might be a better breast tumor surveillance option than mammography for such women.

September 5, 2012

The Pentagon today posted a website mapping the amount of radiation to which Americans in Japan at the time of nuclear disaster were exposed. The doses were very low. The highest doses were at Camp Sendai, just north of Fukushima, where the whole body dose was 1.2 mSv and 12.0 mSv for the thyroid. (For comparison, 12.0 mSv is the annual whole-body natural background dose for residents of Denver.)

August 28, 2012

Dr. Jorgensen and colleagues have just published a study in Cancer Epidemiology on genetic risk factors for basal cell carcinoma (BCC) among the residents of Washington County, Maryland. BCC is caused by ultraviolet radiation, but there is also a strong genetic component. Some have speculated that variant hedgehog pathway genes might be responsible for the genetic risk, but the study found little evidence that hedgehog genes play a significant role.