Maj. John Wang, health physicist, United States Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine Radiation Dosimetry Lab inspects a dual radiation dosimeter at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base Dec. 19, 2019. (U.S. Air Force photo/Ty Greenlees)

Dosimetry Lab fields new technology to keep Airmen safe

For the first time in nearly 40 years, U.S. Air Force personnel who work near radioactive materials will be receiving newly designed, higher-sensitivity radiation dosimeters that record the amount of exposure to ionizing radiation for individuals.

Personnel in the United States Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine Radiation Dosimetry Laboratory began work with the new dosimeter design in 2018.

“The previous system was state of the art in the 1970s and 1980s for radiation dosimetry, but the newer system is state of the art for today,” said David Pugh, technical director, USAFSAM Radiation Dosimetry Lab.

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Airmen working in medical treatment facilities in radiology and nuclear medicine, nondestructive testing for aircraft, explosive ordnance disposal duty and nuclear weapons, are included in this group. The Airmen wear a radiation dosimeter badge attached to their clothing that is sensitive to ionizing radiation such as X-rays, gamma rays, beta particles and neutrons.

The dosimeters are then returned to the Radiation Dosimetry Lab where they are read by an automated machine, and the results are recorded to a database and monitored to determine the Airmen’s cumulative exposure to radiation.

“We can only allow a person to be exposed to certain amounts before they meet their annual dose limit,” says Maj. John Wang, health physicist, USAFSAM Radiation Dosimetry Lab.

But the new dosimeter project was not just a replacement of the badges.

“This was a necessary wholesale transition to new technology. We were able to scope, contract, award, procure, implement and field this technology in about 18 months. We worked with a commercial vendor for the material. All the procedures and training that went along with that, we were able to pick up over the course of that time,” said Jason Cezeaux, chief, USAFSAM Radiation Dosimetry Lab.

“The other important part is that we didn’t have time to stop our day jobs. At the same time, the Air Force Dosimetry Lab has the gold standard for the Department of Defense in terms of our response time and our reporting timelines. We were able to maintain that over the course of bringing in an entirely new system – a replacement of our core technology. It took a lot of hard work and dedication. It was a team effort for sure,” Cezeaux added.

The new dosimeters are essentially the same form factor as the previous version, but new technology allows for reuse of the core recording device. The old dosimeters were thermoluminescent and used heat to read the badge, which could only be performed once. The new dosimeters utilize a crystal-based detector that is read by specific light wavelengths. The new dosimeters can be read more accurately and then reused, allowing for better data and a quicker turn-around time for the customer.

“The time required to get these badges out the door, and the time required for us to read them is much faster now, too. We save a lot of time going to this new technology,” said Cezeaux.

Along with the new dosimeter badges, the lab also integrated several databases that store the dosimetry data as a part of the new.

“We got all the databases talking together to streamline that and make the data more defensible,” said Cezeaux.

The lab has customers outside of the Air Force, too.

“We also serve the U.S. Army and Navy’s largest medical centers, the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Coast Guard,” said Tech. Sgt. Curtis Reando, dosimetry technician, Radiation Dosimetry Lab, USAFSAM

“The beauty for our customer is that it’s a seamless transition, and it’s worn the same. We wanted to minimize as much impact to our end user as possible. The dosimeters go into the same trays for processing and are managed the same in the lab, in terms of storage and space,” said Pugh.

The lab shipped out more than 13,000 of the new dosimeters to its customers in mid-December 2019. All of these dosimeters will eventually be returned to the Radiation Dosimetry Lab where they will be read and recycled for their next mission of protecting Airmen and workers.

For more information about the Air Force Radiation Dosimetry Laboratory, contact Reando at 937-938-3348.

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