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Environment Protection Authority

EPA issues fine after hospital cleaner bins radioactive material

Media release: 19 October 2016

The NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA) issued South Western Sydney Local Health District with a fine of $1,500 yesterday after two capsules containing Iodine-131, a radioactive substance used in patient treatment, were accidentally placed into a general waste garbage compactor by a staff member at the Bankstown Lidcombe Hospital.

EPA Executive Director of Hazardous Incidents and Environmental Health Sarah Gardner said this incident could have been avoided if the appropriate controls, processes and training had been in place.

"The incident occurred in July 2016 when a cleaner placed the capsules containing Iodine-131 into a general waste compactor at the hospital.

"Hospital staff reported the incident to Fire and Rescue NSW and both Fire and Rescue NSW and the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO) attended the scene.

"At the scene ANSTO and Fire and Rescue NSW concluded that the waste was well contained in the compactor and did not pose a risk to those on the scene, the community or the environment.

"The hospital informed the EPA that exposure from the handling of the capsules was a very small dose of radiation of 13-15 microsieverts. This level of exposure is not harmful. The level of radiation received during the average Chest X-ray scan is approximately 80 microsieverts."

Mrs Gardner said the Radiation Control Act 1990 outlines the requirements for managing radioactive substances. 

"The hospital breached the Act when an untrained and unlicensed person was allowed to access, handle and manipulate the radioactive material."

The compactor containing the waste was isolated and it was safely moved to a licenced landfill for storage for the radioactivity to decay to a level allowing safe disposal. The waste was reassessed in August 2016 and found to have decayed to a level for final disposal to occur.

"Although in this case no harm occurred, the incident highlighted the risks associated with handling radioactive substances.

"As a result of the incident the hospital implemented additional safety measures, including delivering radiation safety training for relevant staffing groups and making changes to the delivery and storage of radioactive substances to the hospital.

"The EPA is pleased with the action the hospital has taken to ensure this issue does not arise in the future," Mrs Gardner said.

Penalty Notices are one of a number of tools the EPA can use to achieve environmental compliance including formal warnings, official cautions, licence conditions, notices, directions and prosecutions.

The EPA takes a range of factors into account before delivering a proportionate regulatory response including the degree of environmental harm, whether or not there are any real or potential health impacts, if the action of the offender was deliberate, compliance history, public interest and best environmental outcomes. For more information about the EPA’s regulatory tools, see the EPA Compliance Policy



Contact: Public Affairs

Page last updated: 19 October 2016