Answer to Question #9698 Submitted to "Ask the Experts"

Category: Nuclear Medicine Patient Issues

The following question was answered by an expert in the appropriate field:


Couldn't contamination from radionuclides be easily washed off? Do people really check themselves at the end of each day? Can these materials contaminate someone's clothes through the air, or is it only through touching? Even if there was some contamination, wouldn't it be a very small amount? I was thinking about a career in nuclear medicine and this concerned me as I have kids/family at home.

The short answer is YES, nuclear medicine technologists check themselves for contamination, not just at the end of the day, but several times during the day. It is common practice for a Geiger counter to be present in the dosage preparation areas to survey hands, etc., after handling radiopharmaceuticals. However, technologists RARELY get any radioactive contamination on their skin because it is standard practice for anyone handling unsealed radioactive materials to be wearing protective gloves and a lab coat at all times. When contamination is found, it is almost always on a glove or lab coat. If radiopharmaceuticals do reach the skin, they are water soluble and can generally be washed off readily with minimal radiation dose to the individual.

In the nuclear medicine setting, radioactive material does not move through the air to contaminate other objects. Consider it like dirt; you have to touch it or step in it to get contaminated and move it around. 

Also, there are many female nuclear medicine technologists who work through their pregnancy and have normal healthy children. You should see if you can go as an observer or visitor to a nuclear medicine facility to see what the work is really like while considering this choice of a career. I work with staff who have been doing this for more than 20 years and they love their jobs. It makes them feel good to help people. 

Marcum Martz, CHP
Answer posted on 7 June 2011. The information posted on this web page is intended as general reference information only. Specific facts and circumstances may affect the applicability of concepts, materials, and information described herein. The information provided is not a substitute for professional advice and should not be relied upon in the absence of such professional advice. To the best of our knowledge, answers are correct at the time they are posted. Be advised that over time, requirements could change, new data could be made available, and Internet links could change, affecting the correctness of the answers. Answers are the professional opinions of the expert responding to each question; they do not necessarily represent the position of the Health Physics Society.