By Debbie Siegelbaum - 07/19/12 10:00 AM EDT
A U.S. Capitol Police (USCP) officer has filed a formal complaint against the department, alleging delinquency in inspecting X-ray equipment that can emit cancer-causing radiation.
Officer Michael Detorie, chief shop steward for the Capitol Police Labor Committee, Library of Congress division, filed the complaint with the Office of Compliance (OOC) on July 12.
The nine-year veteran of the Capitol Police force alleges in his filing with the congressional watchdog agency that several X-ray machines around the Library of Congress had notices on them indicating they were three to nine months beyond their scheduled biannual inspection dates.
“They are supposed to be checked periodically for the radiation levels they emit,” Detorie told The Hill. Several fellow officers brought the issue to Detorie’s attention earlier this month.
“When you’re the guy who stands next to one of those machines all day, every day, for years on end, you want to make sure they get inspected,” he said.
Detorie notified department management and requested it immediately close those entrances containing the offending machinery, but the request was denied.
Capitol Police management allegedly told Detorie that the notices of inspection on the X-ray machines were inaccurate and obsolete, and the department had instead switched to an internal inspection log. Detorie, however, was not able to view the log.
Soon thereafter, Detorie claims, all the notices posted on the X-ray machines in the Library of Congress were updated to reflect that inspections had occurred on the same day.
Detorie considers the updated inspection notices “suspect” because “one of the supervisors in the chain of command told me they wouldn’t be able to do the tests at all because they didn’t have the equipment available.”
According to the formal complaint, “[E]ither the Security Services Bureau [which is responsible for maintaining all Capitol Police security screening equipment] knowingly misled the union, or was unable to accurately track the status of individual machines.
“In either case, it calls into question the integrity and consistency of the inspection process,” the complaint states.
The police department challenges the complaint, contending that is it not delinquent in testing the machinery. It also claims it inspects at a rate that exceeds best practices of other agencies that utilize similar equipment.
“USCP remains on schedule with our X-ray machine maintenance and radiation testing,” wrote department spokeswoman Lt. Kimberly Schneider in an email Wednesday.
“Our internal controls are designed to provide a consistent process with the safety and health of our employees being paramount as they perform their duties,” she added. “USCP conducts biannual testing, although there is only an annual requirement per federal regulations.”
Schneider also noted that the department took immediate action once concerns about the X-ray machines were brought to its attention.
“The Security Services Bureau promptly performed inspections of not just the X-ray machine in question, but all other X-ray machines at the Library of Congress as well,” she said.
A spokesman for the OOC verified that the agency received a request for inspection and confirmed that an investigation is under way.
Otis Webb Brawley, chief medical officer and executive vice president of the American Cancer Society, said, “These machines need to be maintained. They need to be calibrated on a regular basis and they need to be checked for radiation leakage.”
Technicians must make sure the X-ray machines are not producing excess radiation, and that protective shielding is adequate and properly in place. If not, the machines pose substantial health risks.
“Ionizing radiation causes damage to DNA, and people who get exposure to ionizing radiation run increased risk of cancers,” Brawley said. “The more radiation one gets over time, the more their risk of getting a cancer increases.”
This is potentially particularly harmful to Capitol Police officers stationed near X-ray machines.
“If you were to take the guys and gals who work in Capitol security — and if indeed they are being exposed to excess radiation, and if it’s a small amount — one would anticipate that over a prolonged period of time, the lifetime of those officers, you might cause one or two additional cancers,” he said. “If there’s a larger amount of radiation exposure, you’re going to end up with more.”
The most common cancers resulting from such radiation exposure include leukemia, skin cancers, breast cancer and muscular tumors.
Capitol Police officers are not the only ones at risk. Brawley noted that lawmakers, staffers and visitors to the Library of Congress and other buildings that contain such screening equipment could also see negative effects.
“The concern for someone who is working in the building who is not a police officer, is when you walk by the machine … it is giving out a beam of radiation as you walk,” he said. “You do increase chances of getting a malignancy.”
But, Brawley noted, X-ray machines that are properly inspected and maintained do not leak radiation and pose minimal health risks.
“I definitely would be concerned and I would say that these machines need to be maintained,” he said of the allegations outlined in the complaint.
A spokesman for the USCP Labor Committee agrees, noting that the committee was recently made aware of the complaint and will address it with acting Police Chief Tom Reynolds.
“That is a concern, because officers man those posts day in and day out,” the spokesman said.
Both the chairman and ranking member of the Committee on House Administration voiced their support in a joint statement Wednesday.
“We support the review of any and all allegations that raise questions about the security and safety of those within the Capitol Complex,” said Reps. Dan Lungren (R-Calif.) and Robert Brady (D-Pa.).