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caption: Harborview Medical Center in Seattle.
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Harborview Medical Center in Seattle.
Credit: KUOW photo

13 exposed to radioactivity at Seattle hospital

Thirteen people were exposed to a radioactive substance Thursday night at a building in the Harborview Medical Center complex.

Kristin Tinsley with the Seattle Fire Department said a contract crew was moving caesium-137 from a lab in the Harborview Medical Center Research and Training Building to a truck when the substance spilled.

Tinsley said five people were decontaminated and released, but eight people who were exposed were taken to the hospital. The research building was evacuated.

Harborview Medical Center spokesperson Susan Gregg said in an email Friday morning all of the patients were discharged.

Tinsley said none of the patients showed immediate symptoms. Two of them were custodial workers.

She said she did not have details about how the spill occurred, but she described the operation to move the material as routine.

"The contract workers that were hired to this, they are used to dealing with radioactive material, so having a breach like this is very rare," Tinsley said.

She said the scene had been decontaminated and there was no threat to the public.

The Harborview Medical Center Research and Training Building is just east of the main hospital building. The incident occurred at a loading area in the rear of the building near Terry Avenue and Terrace Street.

Tinsley described Caesium-137 as similar to talcum powder in appearance and said it was being used at Harborview in the blood transfusion process. Cesium-137 is used to irradiate blood, and in radiation therapy. It’s also used in some industrial gauges.

Caesium-137 is described as highly water soluble and easily spread. It was widely spread by the nuclear accidents at the Chernobyl and Fukushima nuclear plants.

Clarification, 5/3/2019, 7:55 a.m.: An earlier version of this story quoted fire officials as saying the incident happened at another building in the Harborview complex.