The good thing about the internet is that a tremendous amount of information is available to people 24 hours a day. The bad thing about the internet is that a lot of the information people are getting is very wrong. This is very true when it comes to radioactive iodine treatment. We have seen cases over and over where completely unqualified and uneducated people are offering wrong and sometimes even dangerous I131 misinformation. Laboratory Technologies, Inc. has been designing and building nuclear medicine and laboratory instrumentation since 1983. We know a great deal about radioiodine – including contamination, cleanup and so forth. Let’s go through a few of the pieces of misinformation we’ve heard or read about:
“I’m getting such a small amount of radioactive iodine that it’s safe”.
Well, the definition of small is relative. Therapeutic doses of I131 can range from 100µCi to 250 mCi.( What is a Ci?) That is a range of more the 2500 times. Even the smallest dose of 100µCi is 100 times the legal exemption limit of 1 µCi. (This is what is “legal” for the general public to possess.) Now I am not saying that RAI treatment is not safe. RAI treatment for Thyroid problems is an extremely effective and safe procedure for the patient! However exposing others to the radioactive contamination being eliminated from your body is a potential hazard. Over the many weeks of your therapy, your body will be releasing all of the I131 that was put into it. I131 has an 8 day half life, so for those of you who read our article on half life and decay know that every 8 days the amount of radiation becomes 50%, and most of the I131 is released from your body within about 7 days. This makes the first 1-2 weeks of your isolation the most critical. People with healthily thyroids who uptake I131 may have dangerous beta particles mutating or killing their healthy cells.
According to an article in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism Exposure to small amounts if I131 may be more dangerous than large amounts. This is due to the Beta particles being emitted by the I131. Beta particles can mutate or kill cells. When cells are exposed to a small dose of Beta particles, they can mutate. Mutated cells may develop rapidly into cancerous tumors. Why take any chances? Follow some simple guidelines at home and ensure that you are doing everything you can to keep your loved ones safe.
“It has an 8 day half life, and my doctor told me it evaporates in 16 days.”
Interesting! I131 does has an 8 day half life (1), so for those of you who read our article on half life and decay know that every 8 days the amount of radiation becomes half. I recently read something that explained it in another way, the half life of an isotope “is really the lifetime of half of the isotope present in the system at any given time.” (2). If someone, even your doctor tells you that it (I131) will “evaporate” or “go away” in 16 days, he/she is dead wrong. Dangerous information like this scares me. Radiation can NEVER “just go away”, it will slowly decay until it becomes immeasurable! For the most part the rule of thumb is that once an isotope goes through 11 half lives, it is, for all practical purposes safe enough to be considered “not radioactive”. This, of course, depends on the starting activity level. All you will need to know is that any contamination that may be left in your home from the “discharge” of RAI treatment, will be safely decayed in 88 days.
So what can you do to keep your home safe from I131 contamination? Use Bind-It™ to remove the contamination and let it decay safely out of reach of anyone. After 88 days, throw away the waste bag with your normal trash.(1) IODINE 131 – NUCLEAR SAFETY SHEET (2) Radioactive Decay from Carleton College
Flushing twice is a good start, but far from the end of your safety procedures! Flushing the toilet a second time will help to dilute the contamination left in your toilet from your ” business”, but not all. If you research different hospitals and RAI treatment centers, the recommended safety procedures vary… a lot. In fact, the USA is one of the ONLY countries that lets RAI patients go home after they take the I131. Most other countries keep RAI patients for 3-5 days in a special lead lined isolation room. Take a look at the video posted to YouTube from a hospital in the U.K. it gives a good overview of the RAI procedure and shows you how serious other countries take second hand exposure to I131.
Keeping your distance is good advice, but distance alone does not ensure safety. Exposure to radioactivity follows a rule called the inverse square law (1). Simply stated if you double the distance the radiation dose is quartered. With I131, distance alone will not do the trick. Iodine 131 emits two kinds of radiation, gamma and beta. Gamma radiation exposure is handled very well using the distance rule. The real danger of I131 exposure is another persons body absorbing the contamination left on surfaces.
The body’s ability to quickly absorb iodine is referred to as internal uptake (2). Since the thyroid gland needs iodine to produce hormones (essential chemicals produced and used by the body to function properly) and the lack of iodine in our foods, the thyroid gland has developed an ability to quickly uptake iodine like a sponge. This uptake happens in the stomach, lungs, even on skin. When the I131 enters the body the beta radiation begins to kill thyroid cells. This is exactly what makes the RAI treatment effective to treat thyroid problems. However people with healthily thyroids who uptake I131 will have dangerous beta particles mutating or killing their healthy cells.
When a patient takes Radioactive Iodine (I131) either in a pill or a liquid, it is quickly metabolized into the body. The thyroid absorbs as much as it can, but the remaining I131 is eliminated from the body over a few days. This “elimination” comes in the form of urine, feces, sweat, saliva, breath and body oils. Anything you touch can leave measurable radioactive contamination.
One of my favorite examples of contamination comes from a customer in Canada, a hospital with a RAI patient isolation room. Last year they told us that Bind-It™ is really good at removing the “footprints” left by patients. Footprints? According to the Nuclear Technican the patients seldom wear the slippers they are provided. As the patients walk around the room barefoot, the oils and sweat on their skin are leaving “footprints” on the floor that can be followed with a geiger counter! (Keep in mind this is a hospital, I myself have never been in a hospital room that I have found warm, usually they are kept colder then I am used to.) So we are not talking about really sweaty feet. The point is that you will be leaving contamination everywhere, without even realizing it. This contamination will remain there until it decays away ( up to 90 days later ), unless you remove the contamination with Bind-It™ .
It is very important that you reduce the risk to other people; your spouse, children, grandchildren, friends, coming into contact with contamination. They otherwise run the risk of internal uptake, and that may lead to some serious problems.
What is the solution? Keep your distance from other people, limit your time when you are close to them. Follow all the safety procedures given to you by your health care provider, follow our tips (Sometimes the little things help) and use the Bind-It™ Patient Care Pack. Bind-it™ is specifically designed to safely and effectively remove radioactive iodine (I131) from most surfaces, including your hands and body.
(1) The Inverse Square law for radiation (2) Radiation exposure from I131