Government departments and even autonomous organisations in Bangladesh are not exactly famous for enforcing rules and regulations or even laws that have been enacted by the people's representatives. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that a recent survey of 38 industries, that use radiological elements and equipment, has revealed that most of them, reportedly, couldn't care less about maintaining mandatory safety and radiation protection protocols. The survey was conducted by the Director of the Nuclear Safety and Radiation Control Division of the Bangladesh Atomic Energy Commission, which, we dare say, is not known for such 'public interest' activity. It is commendable that the BAEC is finally showing some concern for the safety and health of the people vis-a-vis various nuclear applications.

The survey findings are bad enough to give anyone an acute anxiety syndrome-that is, anyone with a little understanding of what ionising radiation can do to all life at the molecular level, over and above directly observable physical injury. Although the use of nuclear elements and devices is not very widespread, the irresponsible manner in which they are handled makes them doubly hazardous. The case of Tapan Kumar Sheel, a pipeline worker of the Bakhrabad Gas Systems Ltd, who was exposed to heavy radiation during his welding job in 1985, illustrates how criminally negligent construction companies (in this case an international company) can be with regard to their workers

Sheel had no idea that his long bouts of sickness while on the job was due to severe radiation from the nuclear-tipped welding equipment. He worked without any protection and collapsed several times while at work. When environmental reporters brought his plight to public notice his fingers had already started getting 'eaten' up by radiation. He had to amputate them and although he is still alive today the long-term effects of ionising radiation exposure has left him crippled with recurring headaches, drying up of blood vessels and other health problems. This is just one instance of negligence and there is no doubt the careless practices of the majority of the industrial enterprises in the country are leaving countless numbers seriously ill from ionising radiation.

Nuclear devices are used by foreign construction contractors in the gas and oil exploration sector, for irradiator and gas mantle production, for the measurement of moisture, laying gas pipe networks, installing chemical and power industries, building bridges etc. The survey is said to have revealed that radiation safety programmes are absent in 60 per cent cases of industrial radiography practices. Even with regard to isotope handling equipment, personnel monitoring and radiation warning systems and the like, the record has not been up to the mark. In some cases over 80 per cent of the workers handling nuclear equipment have been found untrained. The survey does not seem to have anything to say about the utterly callous manner in which X-ray machines are installed and used throughout the country with no regulation whatsoever as to how much is zapped into human bodies and the environment.

The BAEC has the authority to regulate and control all nuclear practices in the country as per the Nuclear Safety and Radiation Control Act 1993 and Nuclear Safety and Radiation Control Rules 1997. But these legal instruments are said to be inadequate and recommendations have been put forward at a seminar last month to institute effective regulatory instruments.

Hopefully, as suggested, a coordinated effort would be initiated by BAEC together with the Ministries of Science and Technology, Industry and Commerce as well as the Health Physics Division so that safety and protection protocols can be put in place and the public made fully aware of the hazards that ionising radiation can pose even when taking a 'few X-rays'. Let it be known there is no such things as a 'safe' dose of radiation, even though it is sometimes necessary to diagnose or cure diseases like cancer. (Source: Bangladesh Observer January 15, 2002.)

We have seen that almost all x-ray departments hire low paid Aya (Women servent). These poor women hold the patients during x-ray, so that the patients do not move. These women work 8-10 hours a day without any protection, while the doctors (radiologists) do not enter the room !!!

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