Radiation Emergency


  • 412-624-2728 (Normal business hours)
  • 412-624-2121 (After hours—University Police)
  • 412-647-2345 (After hours—UPMC Hospital Operator)

Radiation Safety Office
3500 Fifth Avenue, Suite 400
Pittsburgh, PA 15213
E-mail: radsafe@pitt.edu

What is a Radiation Emergency?

A radiation emergency is defined as any unplanned event involving nuclear materials or radiation producing devices that may result in an increased exposure of individuals to ionizing radiation. The Radiation Safety Office should be promptly notified of any radiation incident to assure the proper response is taken to minimize personnel exposure, contain radioactive contamination, and address any injury from possible overexposure to sources of radiation.

Any of the following incidents and emergencies should be reported to the Radiation Safety Office:

Radioactive Material Spill Response

Radioactive material spills or contamination incidents are classified as either minor or major. Minor spills may be handled and cleaned up by the radiation worker without assistance from the Radiation Safety Office (RSO). Major spills require the immediate notification to the RSO so it can respond to define and oversee the clean up of the contamination.

Minor Spill or Incident

< 1 mCi of Radioactive Material (RAM)

  • No personnel contamination
  • Localized contamination
  • No spread of RAM outside immediate work area or lab
  • Proper tools and knowledge available for clean up


  1. Prevent the spread of contamination by covering the spill with absorbent paper.
  2. Alert people in the immediate area of the spill to control traffic. Monitor the feet and hands of individuals in the area for contamination.
  3. Survey and define the extent of contamination.
  4. Wear gloves and protective clothing to clean up the spill using absorbent paper and cleanser.
  5. Dispose of all contaminated material in a radioactive waste bag, properly seal and label.
  6. Monitor the area, your hands, and shoes with an appropriate survey meter for contamination. Repeat decontamination efforts as necessary.
  7. Report the incident to the Radiation Safety Office.

Major Spill or Incident

> 1 mCi of Radioactive Material (RAM)

  • Skin and/or clothing contamination is involved (any quantity)
  • Large areas are contaminated
  • Contamination has spread outside immediate work area or lab
  • Airborne RAM is thought to be present


  1. Clear the area; notify all persons not involved in the spill to vacate the room.
  2. Prevent the spread of contamination by covering the spill with absorbent paper, but do not attempt to clean it up.
  3. Confine the movement of all potentially contaminated people.
  4. Close doors and prevent entry into the affected area.
  5. Immediately notify the Radiation Safety Office to provide guidance in clean up of the spill and decontamination of personnel.

Personnel Contamination

The Radiation Safety Office must be notified immediately of any incident involving personnel contamination regardless of the radionuclide or activity. Contaminated clothing should be removed and bagged. Begin decontamination of skin surfaces by washing with mild soap and warm water for 2-3 minutes. Do not abrade skin or use hot water. Survey and repeat until the count rate cannot be reduced any further. If skin becomes irritated, discontinue decontamination.

Serious Injury with Radioactive Contamination

Serious injury and life-or-death situations always take priority over radiological concerns. In all cases of physical injury, even minor injuries, medical attention and hospitalization take precedence over contamination concerns. There are no radiation sources at the University that produce contamination and radiation exposure risks large enough to prevent first aid from being given.

Possible Overexposure to Sources of Radiation

The most likely scenario for a serious overexposure to radiation involves exposure to the primary beam of an analytical X-Ray device, linear accelerator, cyclotron, or a high activity sealed source. In any case, immediately notify the Radiation Safety Office, who will provide additional instructions, based on the exposure conditions.