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Posted at 5:40 PM ET, 08/25/2010

Feds: Radiation exposure at Walter Reed

By Marc Fisher

Two packages of radioactive material sat under a counter in the main lobby of Walter Reed Army Medical Center for 44 hours, possibly exposing patients and staff to elevated radiation, according to an investigation by federal regulators.

The packages were delivered on May1 to the hospital’s concierge, who stored them under the counter, according to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The intended recipient, the hospital’s administrative officer, didn’t locate the package until the following Monday, two days later. An NRC spokesman said that the agency is not aware of anyone being harmed.

The administrative officer noticed that the medical center had not received the expected delivery and unsuccessfully tried to find it, according to an NRC spokesman. On May 3, the next workday, hospital officials continued their search and found the package at the concierge desk.

Walter Reed officials determined radiation levels at the concierge desk were two millirems an hour, which exceeds allowable limits. The average American is exposed to 620 millirems a year, according to Neil Sheehan, an NRC spokesman.

The violations at the Northwest Washington hospital follow a similar violation there in 2008.

The commission has scheduled a hearing for Sept. 1 to help determine what, if any, enforcement action the commission will take.

Chuck Dasey, a spokesman for Walter Reed, said there are no reports of illnesses or adverse effects from the exposure. He said hospital officials will attend the hearing and “provide information on Walter Reed’s radiation safety and nuclear medicine programs and the mitigation measures taken since the incident occurred in May.” He declined to comment further.
--Christian Davenport

By Marc Fisher  | August 25, 2010; 5:40 PM ET
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