- The Washington Times - Friday, February 14, 2003

Patients undergoing certain medical procedures involving radioactive compounds are setting off radiological detectors used by police and other authorities to detect terrorist activity, experts told United Press International.

Due to the increased implementation of equipment to detect radiological weapons and sensitivity to terrorism, "they are detecting people who've had diagnostic therapy or radiation treatment," Lynne Fairobent, a health physicist with the American College of Radiology in Reston, Va., told UPI.

Many medical doctors who are members of ACR have reported hearing their patients have set off radiological detectors, Fairobent said. "Metal detectors will also pick up radiation depending on how it's set," she said.

Police officers who monitor the subways of the nation's capitol are aware of the problem, Jan Mader, deputy chief of transit police for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, told UPI. "It's very common," Mader said. "A couple times a week," patients will set off small radiological detectors carried by transit officers, he explained.

The devices, which resemble pagers, are worn by officers on their belt. The intent is to detect a radiological or small nuclear weapon a terrorist might be trying to detonate inside the subway system.

In addition to medical therapies, other items that will trigger the detectors include certain camera lenses, some glazes on antique cups and plates, certain alloys of aluminum, smoke detectors and some type of gemstones.

In most cases, officers will know from the level indicated by the detector that the person has undergone a medical procedure, Mader said. Under such circumstances, an officer may stop people and ask whether they recently have undergone medical procedures. In most cases that will be a sufficient explanation for the officer to let them go, he said.

An anonymous source in the New York City Police Department told UPI he has heard about officers in that city also reporting patients who have tripped the detectors.

The New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority declined to comment on whether their officers are equipped with radiological detectors.

"We don't get into any discussions on security precautions," spokesman Tom Kelly said.

Dr. Chaitanya Divgi, head of targeted therapy in the nuclear medicine service at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York, told UPI a number of his patients have reported setting off the radiological detectors.

The most common compound that sets off the detectors is iodine, which is used in the diagnosis and treatment of thyroid disorders, Divgi said. Other compounds that trip alarms include thallium, used to diagnose problems in the heart, and technicium, used to diagnose problems in the heart, brain, bones and kidneys.

Some compounds can set off sensitive detectors for up to four weeks, Divgi said.

The problem has become so common Divgi and his colleagues have taken steps to warn patients about it. "We tell the patients both verbally and give them written instructions and encourage them to carry them with them," he said.

"Physicians may also give their card to the patient so the cop can call the physician directly," Divgi said, adding one patient disclosed that she had shown his card to a police officer, who let her go.

Fairobent said such reports raise concerns about whether terrorists might try to use this explanation to circumvent law enforcement authorities.

"We don't have a system that (patients are) handed anything to verify they've had a procedure done," she said. So it might be necessary to develop procedures for dispensing cards or some other method of identification for patients to use to prove they recently have undergone a medical therapy.

However, such logistics might prove difficult because cards can be forged, she said.

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