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Fireside Chat: Are X-ray Machines Safe?

This weeks Fireside Chat with the Xperts answers the question, Are X-ray Machines Safe?  Creative Electron’s Mariam Ortiz explains how our X-ray systems are designed to protect operators and others.

By reviewing the fundamentals of X-rays, and using some real world examples, the answer comes into focus.  Register for upcoming Fireside Chats with the Xperts and view our archives here.

 

Transcript:

Dr. Bill Cardoso:

Welcome to another Fireside chat with the Xperts. Today we have Mariem Ortiz, Our VP of manufacturing who is going to be discussing X-ray system manufacturing and how we make those machines safe for you to use and operate. So with that, Mariem.

Mariem Ortiz:

Good morning. Thank you everyone for being here. Bill, thank you for the introduction. I’m going to go ahead and share my screen here. There we go. Perfect. Can you guys see my screen?

Mariem Ortiz:

So X-ray machines, we’ve all heard about radiation. It sounds like a scary … It’s been around for a really long time, but what does it really mean? And how does that play into cabinet X-ray systems, like the ones we built here at Creative Electron? So I’m going to go over quickly, like basics of radiation and how we use the knowledge that we’ve been able to acquire in the last 100 or so years about radiation to make machines safe.

Mariem Ortiz:

And what are the things that are part of a culture of industrial X-ray use that allow us to use this technology and just reap the benefits from it, and really minimize any of the risks that come from using X-rays. So as the most basic definition, radiation is just energy in the form of particles or rays. So this makes radiation kind of unique, acts like light, so it can have mass, or it can just be as a wave, which we treat both of them differently when we’re talking about radiation safety.

Mariem Ortiz:

I’m going to focus … There’s many different types of radiation, but for this meeting I’m going to focus on four types. So we’re going to start with alpha particles. Alpha particles, as the name implies are a particle. So they have mass. What does that mean? It means that they’re actual objects with weight and they can’t easily just penetrate through solid material.

Mariem Ortiz:

So alpha particles are considered the least harmful of the ones I’m going to review. They are really easy to block. You can just … Even like a sheet of paper is able to block alpha particles. They won’t penetrate through your clothing. They won’t penetrate through your skin. They are dangerous when ingested, but they’re not just … If they’re just around, it’s not going to harm your body unless you’re breathing it in.

Mariem Ortiz:

One of the uses that we have for alpha particles that we’re all going to be familiar with is actually smoke detectors. So a smoke detector has radiation emitter like alpha particles on one end, and then it has a sensor on the other end. And in between the two, there’s just empty space, like it’s exposed to the room, whatever room it’s in, it’s in your kitchen or whatever.

Mariem Ortiz:

And just to demonstrate how easily you can stop alpha particles, if smoke gets in between the emitter and the sensor, that’s when your alarm triggers, because it detects that something’s blocking the alpha particles from reaching the sensor. So that’s a really simple application. And just … Typically we don’t worry about alpha particles when we’re talking about X-ray machines.

Mariem Ortiz:

Beta particles, we have another form of particle radiation. These are about 8,000 times smaller than alpha particles. So they are more likely to penetrate through solids. They can cause like burns on your skin, things like that. But again, relatively easy to block, like wood. We’ll be able to use wood or like thin sheets of aluminum to block beta particles.

Mariem Ortiz:

So we have these two types of particle radiation that are part of X-rays. I mean, part of the radiation protection program and beta particles are typically whenever there’s … We talk about like Fukushima or disasters that we’ve had, where water gets contaminated. We’re typically talking about beta particles running in the water.

Mariem Ortiz:

So if you ingest them, they are highly toxic. The other aspect of radiation I was mentioning is the wave behavior. So that’s where X-rays come in and gamma rays. So these are the ones really that we’re concerned about because they’re a wave, they don’t have matter. So they’re able to go through solids much more easily. And they’d be able to like … If you were completely exposed to X-rays or gamma rays, they’d be able to just penetrate your body depending on the power levels that you have.

Mariem Ortiz:

So they can be considered much more damaging, they’ll cause depending on the exposure, it’ll be either like even death or just more longer term changes like affecting your DNA, cancer, things like that. So this is typically what we think of when we think of radiation. This little display here just shows what I was mentioning before.

Mariem Ortiz:

Different types of radiation can be blocked by different sorts of materials. So alpha and beta particles can be blocked by just different like a sheet of paper or wood. And then X-rays and gamma require like a few feet of concrete or thick piece of lead; materials that are much more dense to be able to stop them from penetrating through.

Mariem Ortiz:

So this is something … This knowledge we’ve been able to acquire throughout, thanks to the experiments that a lot of people did throughout the years. So this is used in our manufacturing practices. This allows us to create a safe X-ray machine. And we’re going to go a little bit more into that later.

Mariem Ortiz:

So one of the early pioneers for radiation was William Rontgen. He started to experiment with radiation. He almost figured out the particle and wave differences in radiation, not quite. So we really attribute a lot of the technology to him. With the most basic unit of measuring X-rays is named after him. So Rontgen is just going to talk about the exposure of X-rays and gamma rays in the air. So it doesn’t talk about the particle radiation that we were discussing earlier.

Mariem Ortiz:

But one of the things that we’re interested in, we want to know how that radiation is going to affect certain items. So we talk about the absorbed dose, radiation absorbed dose. So in this unit of measurement, we take into account the mass of the material to see the effect that it would have on the item.

Mariem Ortiz:

Most commonly we’re concerned about humans. So then we have the next unit called Rontgen equivalent man. For this one we’re taking into account the biological factors that would … I mean the biological effects that would come from radiation exposure. Practically, these are all interchangeable. So you’ll hear people refer to Rems, Rads back and forth. Rontgens is not as commonly used, at least in the US it might be in other areas. But for practical purposes, they’re all about the same.

Mariem Ortiz:

So for radiation, you can talk about total exposure and then you can talk about dose rate. For safety purposes, we typically refer to a dose rate to create standards. What does this mean? This means we’re talking about the total exposure of radiation in a certain period of time. So in this case, we’re talking about millirems per hour.

Mariem Ortiz:

This is what the FDA uses for their standards. And because it’s going to matter how you’re received that radiation. So if you get let’s call it 10 units of radiation in an hour period, and if you get 10 units of radiation over five years. After the five years, both of these people have the same total exposure, but the effects you’re going to see on the body are going to be significantly different depending on that acute exposure … A lot of exposure in a shorter period of time or that more chronic exposure. So for safety, we want to know the radiation compared to a time variable.

Mariem Ortiz:

One of the interesting things with radiation, there’s a lot of fear around a topic like this, but really radiation is all around us. We have from the sun in like just the earth around you, rocks and like construction materials. So just by walking around life, doing just your daily activities, you get about 600 milligrams a year.

Mariem Ortiz:

So when we talk about industrial use of x-rays, we’re going to do like a rough comparison to see really you’re really not getting that much more in the worst case scenario. So just by walking around, there’s radiation everywhere. One of the most common sources of radiation for humans is radon. This is more so an issue in areas of the country that have basements. Because there is … So radon is a particle type of radiation. So you would ingest it by breathing it.

Mariem Ortiz:

And so basements are just this perfect little chamber where there’s not a lot of air circulation. So you take in all this radiation, and then you start to see some of the effects. Really the exposure … It accounts for about 40% of a person’s total exposure in a year, but we’re talking about low levels and it’s easily addressed just by ventilating your basement.

Mariem Ortiz:

So I really like this graphic. It shows the exposure that a person can receive within a year. And obviously a lot of it is going to depend on your lifestyle. If you’re someone that has a heart problem and you need to get a heart stress test done on a regular basis, then this distribution is going to look different.

Mariem Ortiz:

If you have a lot of like injuries, you keep getting like computed tomography, this blue section, that those are your CT scans that exposes you to quite a big amount of radiation. So there is some variation here, depending on your lifestyle. But most of it comes from just background. Most of it just comes from walking around and just living your life like a normal person.

Mariem Ortiz:

This teeny tiny sliver right below the red, less than 0.1% for industrial and occupational. So our extra machines would fall into this category. And there’s a few reasons why this piece of the pie is so small. So the first reason for the piece of the pie to be so still small is there are strict regulations that apply to X-ray systems. Here at Creative Electron, we build something that’s called Cabinet X-ray Systems.

Mariem Ortiz:

Really all that means is that you have your X-ray source inside of lead blocks. So that you have your X-ray source, you have your sensor, your sample, everything is happening within this lead box. So all of the radiation is contained within it. So as we discussed earlier, because we know what materials can stop the harmful radiation that we’re concerned about much more easily. We use those in our production process.

Mariem Ortiz:

So your machine, as it leaves our facilities is already safe to operate. And then in addition to that, the FDA or whatever safety regulations you have in your country has things that need to be followed. So one of these things are the yearly radiation checks. This is why your maintenance is so important. Not only are you cutting down on any downtime if you don’t get your machine serviced, but it’s a safety thing.

Mariem Ortiz:

You want to make sure that nothing has changed, the machine wasn’t moved in a way that it’s going to affect radiation, that the safety mechanisms are still working. This is going to be important to be done once a year. And they also talk about, as we were discussing before, for safety we talk about dose rate for radiation.

Mariem Ortiz:

So the FDA specifies of less than 0.5 milliRads per hour, two inches away from any surface of the machine that you can touch. So this would be in Europe, it’s 0.1, but it’s at twice the distance. So roughly it ends up being equivalent in different countries. It just depends on how the rules are written out for you. Another safety mechanism that we have on an x-ray machine is an X-ray on light.

Mariem Ortiz:

So this red light that you can see here, the tower light is visible from all around the machine. The purpose of this light is to inform anyone that’s in the room that X-rays are being generated. So when the machine is just powered on this, light’s going to be off. When you click X-rays on, when you start producing radiation, that’s when the red light will turn on.

Mariem Ortiz:

As soon as you turn off your X-rays, your light turns off. So this is just to have people around be aware, and it just increases the safety steps that we can take on using an X-ray machine. We also have interlocks depending on the configuration of the machine or whether it has doors, ports, shutters, they all have slight different variations, but there’s redundancies.

Mariem Ortiz:

So you have even for like one door, you’ll have two interlocks, those interlocks, if one of them fails, but the other one’s working, you still won’t be able to power on your machine. The interlocks don’t physically lock the door to your machine, but if you were to open the door, for example, during an X-ray inspection, you would automatically cut the current that goes to the X-ray source, which means you won’t be able to produce any more radiation.

Mariem Ortiz:

And I like to reference Glen here says trying to get that radiation is like trying to be delighting your refrigerator. We’re talking about really, really, really high speeds here. So by opening the door, you’re disengaging the interlock and shutting down the X-ray source automatically.

Mariem Ortiz:

We also have an emergency stop and key. The purpose of the key is to limit access to the machine so that only people that are properly trained to use the machine have access to it. So you can remove the key when it’s in the off position, but not in the on position.

Mariem Ortiz:

So if we go back to the example of if you’re using an industrial X-ray machine, you’re a full time worker. You work eight hours a day, five days a week, 52 weeks a year, whatever you want to call it. If you were exposed to your X-ray machine, the whole time that you’re working, which first of all, that’s probably not what’s happening.

Mariem Ortiz:

And your X-ray machine is barely passing with the limits of the FDA, the 0.5. You’d be getting about 2000 milliRems a year. So I’m sorry, 1000, my mistake. So you’d be getting about the same of a heart stress test. And if you remember from previous slides, just by being around, you’re getting about 600 millirems a year.

Mariem Ortiz:

So you’re really not getting that much more in the worst case scenario of your machine. This is typically not what we see with X-ray machines. Typically, we’re looking at levels of 0.01 instead of 0.5. So this is one of the reasons why that piece of the pie for industrial X-rays was so small. And if you take a look at this chart, these are a few examples.

Mariem Ortiz:

So if you have a head or a neck X-ray, you’re going to get 20 millirems, a chest X-ray is much lower just because you’re going through mostly air in your lungs. So you’d need less power to be able to see an X-ray image. CT scan, as we mentioned, those give you quite a bit of radiation because you’re exposed to … The X-rays are on around you for long period of time compared to an X-ray, which is just a single shot, very instant. But even like a flight, an airplane flight, we’re talking about 0.6 millirems per hour of flying.

Mariem Ortiz:

An X-ray machine can’t be higher than 0.5. So we don’t typically associate flying as a source of radiation, but really it tends to contribute more to your radiation pie than just using an X-ray machine for work. So this just brings to light how much misinformation there is about a topic like radiation, and how much of the information is just driven by fear versus actual facts.

Mariem Ortiz:

So another huge aspect of having training with X-ray machines is ALARA. So ALARA is more so a way of doing things. It’s a methodology, it’s a mindset of using X-ray machines in the safest way possible. ALARA stands for As Low as Reasonably Achievable. And it just part of training people on using x-ray machines involves this.

Mariem Ortiz:

So what are the things that I can do to mitigate the risks of that could potentially come from an X-ray machine? What can I do to make sure that me as a certified user of the machine and everyone in the room, even the people that might not be in that same room, just like the room next door in an admin position or whatever, what do I have to do to make sure that everyone is safe? And this is not a safety hazard for anyone.

Mariem Ortiz:

A few of the key concepts for ALARA are time, distance, shielding, and collimation. I’m not going to go into collimation too in depth, but basically collimation is just reducing … So X-rays come out in the shape of a cone with a collimeter, you’re reducing the size of your beam so that you’re only using what you need.

Mariem Ortiz:

So basically your X-ray source might produce a lot more than what you need, by just limiting that your that’s one of the steps that you’re taking with ALARA. So ALARA is part of the manufacturing process, part of the service process and a big part of the day to day use. So it’s part of the information that we transfer to the users of our machines so that they can safely operates an X-ray machine.

Mariem Ortiz:

So time, distance, and shielding. Time, as we’ve been discussing, safety for radiation is a unit of radiation over a period of time. So this means that the longer I’m exposed to radiation source, the more harmful effects I will have. So if you can limit the time that you’re exposed to X-ray machines, that’s going to significantly impact your total overall exposure in a year.

Mariem Ortiz:

So a few of the things that we do is basically just preplan your job, know what you need to do. With cabinet X-rays, there’s not a whole lot of practicing before doing mockups and practice runs. This is more so for highly radioactive areas or different types of industries, because as we mentioned with what the cabinet X-ray, anything that you’re experiencing outside of that closed cabinet is so low to begin with it, just more of a common sense, like just do what you need to do. Don’t leave the source on if it doesn’t need to be on, and just limit your, your time as much as possible.

Mariem Ortiz:

One of the features that we have on our TruView software allows for minimizing this time. There’s a built in timer. So if your source is left on for longer than 300 seconds, it automatically shuts down and you can also pause your image. So the ideal way of doing an inspection would be to move your sample, position it in the way that you want, get your proper power levels and your exposure and all the adjustments that you want to make to your image, and then perform the analysis.

Mariem Ortiz:

But the analysis doesn’t need to be done with the X-ray source on. So you can shut down your source. You can pause your image and observe whatever information you’re trying to acquire from your image.

Dr. Bill Cardoso:

Meriem. We have a question here from the audience. Is the area where the X-rays installed a radiation controlled area?

Mariem Ortiz:

No. So because we fall into this category of closed cabinet X-rays, that is not one of the requirements that’s by the federal government. Some States have different requirements. It’s still not considered a radiation controlled area, but some States require you to post that there is an X-ray machine

Dr. Bill Cardoso:

And we have a follow up question from the same, from Jim. Do we have to wear a badge when you operate a cabinet X-ray machine?

Mariem Ortiz:

That’s a great question. No, for FDA standards, not for cabinet X-rays. Some States … Mostly it tends to be an internal policy for a company, but what we’ve seen with dosimetry badges, or the dosimetry rings, and for people that don’t know dosimetry badges basically are … It’s like a little film that you wear on your body, and it will start to accumulate this total exposure that we’ve been talking about.

Mariem Ortiz:

And in a quarterly period, you send these in for review, and then you’re able to see operator A, operator B, operators C, what their exposure levels have next to this X-ray machine. There’s typically one reference one that’s kept in an office far away so that the effects that really came from the machine, there’s also usually one or a couple posted on the machine itself. But what happens with dosimetry badges is there’s a lot of room for misuse.

Mariem Ortiz:

Anything like forgetting about it in the dashboard of your car, it’s going to be exposed to the sun and the heat. That’s going to throw off all your measurements. So if you have for example, like a heart stress test the day before, now you’re radioactive and you’re wearing your badge and you’re tweaking with those numbers.

Mariem Ortiz:

But the biggest reason why I don’t recommend those is because they’re more … You’re inspecting these on a quarterly basis. So if you think about it, the damage has already been done. So it’s much more efficient to train people to properly use the machine and to be proactive about it. So do the inspection at the time that you need to do it. Know what you need to do when you’re in front of the machine, and if you follow these guidelines, then it’s really a very safe equipment and the dosimetry badge just adds more complication. So that tends to be more of an internal company policy than any sort of requirements. Does that answer your question?

Dr. Bill Cardoso:

Yes, it did. Thank you.

Mariem Ortiz:

So going back to the ALARA concepts, the first one was time. Next one over here, we have distance. So distance is pretty cool. It’s not a linear relationship. If you’re close to the x-ray source, and then you take a step back, you’re going to significantly reduce the exposure that you get.

Mariem Ortiz:

So if you can see here on this graphic here, just one foot away, you’re getting 1,000. Two feet away, you’re getting 250. So when in doubt, just take a step back. It’s going to make a huge difference for your safety. So if we were dealing with higher levels of radiation, then other policies would be implemented for this. Like what for example, a hospital worker, that’s taking an X-ray of your arm, you’ll see them … You go in there, they set you up, they are wearing like shielding.

Mariem Ortiz:

And then they walk out of the room or they walk behind a wall or something. So they’re using that distance. And then they’re using the time as well because it’s just teeny tiny split second that you’re being exposed to radiation. So different applications use ALARA differently for x-ray cabinets, closed X-ray cabinets.

Mariem Ortiz:

All you need to do is in the case of an emergency, you can take a step back or you don’t need to be as close to the machine if you don’t have to. And then the last concept for ALARA is the shielding. So again, going back to the closed cabinet X-ray, shielding is part of the cabinet itself. So it’s intrinsically built in the layers of the machine. So the machine, as it leaves the shop is already safe. So there’s no need to design a room for it, there’s no need to add extra shielding. There’s no need for you to be wearing a lead vest or anything while you’re using the machine.

Mariem Ortiz:

All of this is just some … I mean it can be an internal company policy, but really they’re just … It’s it’s based on misinformation. So the important thing here is to take the real facts and build an effective safety policy around that. A huge thing with the shielding is that it can’t be modified. So anything that you see on an X-ray machine, closed cabinet X-ray machine, it’s there for a reason.

Mariem Ortiz:

So if you think maybe I’ll just drill a small hole so I can feed in some cables and move my sample as inspect it, that would look really cool. Absolutely. That’s something we can totally do, but please go through our service department, we’ll come up with a plan so that we can do proper shielding for that. You can’t just modify a cabinet and not expect to see changes in radiation. So with the mix of the regulations, with the mix of the culture, that is part industrial X-ray use and the mix of the information that we’ve acquired throughout years of experimenting with X-rays, and build that into our manufacturing process.

Mariem Ortiz:

Close cabinet X-ray’s are really, really safe to use and they end up being less than a plane ride in your total piece of the pie for a year. Does anyone have any questions?

Dr. Bill Cardoso:

Well one more question here from the audience. What is the material used inside X-ray machines for shielding? I think that’s the question. Yeah, that’s the question. What is the material used for shielding?

Mariem Ortiz:

Lead. Lead’s the primary shield for x-ray cabinets. And as we went through a few slides ago, lead is really effective at stopping … Here we go, stopping X-rays and gamma rays, which are the ones that we’re concerned about when we’re talking about X-ray safety. So there’s sheet metal built in and that reduces radiation as well. But the primary shield is made out of lead.

Dr. Bill Cardoso:

But are people exposed to lead on the machine?

Mariem Ortiz:

No. The way … From the manufacturing process you sandwich the lead in between sheet metal. So you’re exposed to the powder coat of the sheet metal, and then the lead is just built in. You can’t really see it, but it’s there to protect you.

Dr. Bill Cardoso:

Cool. Thanks so much, Mariem. Really appreciate the presentation. And with that, this was another Fireside Chat with the experts. Please come back next week, 10:00 Pacific. We’re going to have another presentation, and keep watching. These videos are going to be on YouTube soon. So check them out at or website at creativeelectron.com. Thank you so much. Bye bye. Thanks Mariem.

Mariem Ortiz:

Thank you.

Speaker 3:

Creative Electron

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