Monday | December 11, 2017
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Hilo hospital will spend $100K to fix radiation leak


HILO — Hilo Medical Center will spend more than $100,000 to temporarily fix a leak in the radiation vault at the rear of a Hilo oncology clinic.

Hospital administrators have selected D'Iberville, Miss.-based contractor Caffey Inc.'s bid of $102,682 to perform the radiation mitigation work at Hawaii Pacific Oncology Center, according to spokeswoman Mary Stancill.

"We anticipate Caffey Inc. will begin on-site work within the next five to six weeks," she wrote in a Saturday email. "Although work will begin next week, the bulk of it will be done in the continental U.S."

The fix will essentially involve the placement of a 20-foot shipping container filled with high-density, "specially formulated concrete block" adjacent to the exterior wall of a vault surrounding a radiation therapy machine in the clinic, she said.

Hilo Medical Center reported in November that it had discovered a second location in the vault — toward the rear of the clinic facing the parking lot — which could potentially leak radiation during use of the machine, known as a linear accelerator.

The first leak was discovered in the ceiling of the vault on March 16. Hilo Medical Center administrators responded by shuttering three small office spaces immediately above the leak in the Veterans Affairs clinic upstairs from the oncology clinic.

Subsequent testing revealed that workers in the Veterans Affairs offices would not have been exposed to dangerous levels of radiation, according to independent tests performed by both Veterans Affairs and the hospital.

Stancill said that the mitigation efforts will not impede the use of the machine at the oncology clinic, which has continued to operate as usual.

Radiation safety officers and hospital administrators have been quick to point out that the radiation used by the machine is only emitted in short bursts, and is only capable of escaping the vault if the machine is pointed directly at the leaks in the vault walls.

The use of the 8-foot-wide, by 8-foot-deep, by 20-foot-long shipping container filled with concrete is only an interim solution to the leaks, Stancill explained. Administrators plan to replace the linear accelerator at the clinic with a newer, more powerful model, which will require either "renovation of the existing vault or the build-out of a new vault," she said.