Society News Archive

11 September 2015
CDC Guidelines for Handling Contaminated Decedents

Guidelines for Handling Decedents Contaminated With Radioactive Materials, by Charles M. Wood, Frank DePaolo, and R. Doggett Whitaker, is available on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. The guidelines address both nuclear detonation and radiological dispersal device (RDD) scenarios, as well as procedures to follow after reactor accidents, transportation accidents involving radioactive material, or decedents who recently received injection or implantation of a radiopharmaceutical.

Although there are laws regulating radioactive material in living patients, there are no federal regulations regarding radioactive material in decedents. Some points in the guidelines:

  • People who die immediately from blast injuries can have external contamination but not internal contamination (unless there is radioactive shrapnel). Persons who die later may have inhaled or ingested contaminants, though unlikely in concentrations posing a health risk to caretakers.
  • The medicolegal investigative team usually consists of a medicolegal investigator, a photographer, and a scribe. They should attempt to limit the spread of contamination.
  • Team members should wear protective clothing with a thermoluminescent dosimeter (TLD) inside and a self-reading dosimeter outside. The TLD is the legal record, and the outside dosimeter is for safety.
  • Annual limit on dose to a radiation worker is 0.05 sievert.