Congressman urges Nuclear Regulatory Commission to apply veterinary radiation rules to human medicine

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Jan 06, 2011
Washington -- Pets undergoing radiation treatments are thought to get better post-treatment care than people, and one Congressman is hoping guidelines for human care can be improved to model veterinary protocols.

Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), chair of the Energy and Environment Subcommittee of the Energy and Commerce Committee sent a letter Dec. 9 asking the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to address inconsistencies in its regulations on the safe release of pets and people following radioactive treatments.

“Regulations regarding the manner in which patients treated with radioactive materials for thyroid cancer and other disorders are released from the hospital are dramatically less protective than those issued for the release of household pets treated with far smaller amounts of the very same radioactive materials,” Markey wrote to NRC. “This bizarre disparity, that provides cats and dogs with greater level of post-treatment care and more restrictive guidelines for discharge than for human beings, underscores the need for the commission to revise its human patient release regulations to make them at least as protective as those that govern the release of cats and dogs.”

A recent inquiry by the Subcommittee on Energy and Environment poses new questions about risks of radiation exposure to people from patients following radiation treatments treatment, which are increasingly performed as outpatient procedures, Markey explains. There is a problem, Markey contends, when NRC regulations require that pets must be hospitalized for two to five days in a veterinary hospital following radiation treatments with doses 10 to 50 times less than humans. NRC guidelines are very detailed for pet care, and even include sample language veterinarians can use to talk to pet owners about the dangers of exposure following radiation treatments.

“No equivalently protective directions for human patients released from the hospital following treatment with radioactive materials exists, even though human patients are typically treated with far greater amounts of radioactive materials than animals are, they are almost always immediately released from the hospital after treatments, and are thus much more dangerous to those with whom they come into contact,” Markey argues, calling the disparity “absurd and unacceptable.”

Markey asked the commission for a reply by Dec. 15, threatening legislative action if NRC would not or could not address his concerns. NRC spokesman David McIntyre told DVM Newsmagazine Jan. 4 that a reply had not yet been sent to Markey, but that one was being drafted and would be released soon. He gave no further comment on the matter as of press time.