There are not explicit regulatory requirements for radiation exposure during emergency response activities involving radioactive materials, other than legal limits for occupational radiation workers (individuals who routinely work with and are exposed to radioactive materials) working at facilities licensed for radioactive materials use. The general consensus by national and international radiation protection bodies is that in the event of an emergency involving radioactive materials, emergency responders may need to be considered occupational workers and assume the applicable dose limits and associated controls and monitoring. Emergency responder and planning agencies should work towards establishing their own guidance and limits for radiation exposure based on sound recommendations from national and international radiation protection bodies.
In certain extreme and rare cases, such as during a major radiological event, there may be a need for emergency responders to exceed occupational limits. The need for exceeding these occupational limits requires careful consideration and typically apply only to such things as lifesaving and protection of major populations. As with other hazards, emergency response organizations responsible for planning for establishing radiation protection guidelines for their responders must adhere to an underlying philosophy which balances the need for exposure and associated risks to personnel with the protection of the public.
What the Numbers Look Like
For most routine response operations, emergency responders would normally be held to and are unlikely to exceed the radiation dose limits specified for members of the public which are:
100 mrem (0.1 rem) per year - total effective dose equivalent = public dose limit
In certain instances however, emergency responders may need to be considered occupational radiation workers in order to perform certain functions necessary to their jobs. The limits for occupational radiation workers is the following:
- 5,000 mrem (5 rem) per year total effective dose equivalent (includes both external and internal exposure); or
- 50,000 mrem (50 rem) to any organ or tissue excluding the lens of the eye.
The radiation dose limits for members of the public and occupational radiation workers above may be found in the Colorado Rules and Regulations Pertaining to Radiation Control, Part 4, Section 4.14, and Section 4.6.
The following guidance documents and references from national and international radiation protection organizations contain recommendations on radiation exposure that may be useful in establishing limits for emergency responders: