Small Radioactive Breach During Transport Process at Seattle Hospital

Thirteen People Decontaminated for Radiation Exposure

On May 2, 2019, thirteen people had to be decontaminated for radiation exposure following an incident at the research facility on the Harborview Medical Center campus in Seattle, Washington.


The personnel involved include two radioactive materials inspectors with the Washington State Department of Health and law enforcement officers who were present to observe removal of the device, as well as employees of a company contracted by the University of Washington to remove the device.

The device was in the process of being sealed and shipped to a safe disposal site and was located in a controlled-access work area in one of the buildings on the medical center’s campus.

A leak was detected and a radioactive material, cesium-137, was detected in the controlled worksite.  The contractor found contamination in the work area and that 13 people were contaminated.  No contamination was released outside of the area and there was no risk to the public, according to a news release from the Washington Department of Health.

Seattle Fire Department responded.  Ten of the workers were sent to the hospital for testing and possible treatment.  All personnel were decontaminated and released.

Radiation health physicists with the Washington Department of Health report that this type of work is fairly common, but release of radioactive material is very rare.  The Washington Department of Health is investigating the incident in partnership with the University of Washington and will provide more information as it becomes available.


The Harborview Medical Center is just east of the main hospital building.  The incident occurred at a loading area in the rear of the building.  The cesium-137 was being used at Harborview in the blood transfusion process.

Cesium-137 is used to irradiate blood, and in radiation therapy.  It is also used in some industrial gauges.  Cesium-137, which is water soluble, was widely spread by the nuclear accidents at the Chernobyl and Fukushima nuclear plants.

For additional information, please contact Kate Lynch of the Washington Department of Health at (360) 485-5101 or at