Objective: To document the ability of public health laboratories to respond to radiological emergencies.
Methods: The Association of Public Health Laboratories developed, distributed, and analyzed two separate surveys of public health laboratories representing the 50 US states and major nonstate jurisdictions. The 2009 All-Hazards Laboratory Preparedness Survey examined overall laboratory capability and capacity, with a subset of questions on radiation preparedness. A 2011 survey focused exclusively on radiation readiness.
Results: The 50 state and District of Columbia public health laboratories responded to the 2009 All-Hazards Laboratory Preparedness Survey, representing a 98% response rate. In addition to the above laboratories, environmental and agricultural laboratories responded to the 2011 Radiation Capabilities Survey, representing a 76% response rate. Twenty-seven percent of the All-Hazards Survey respondents reported the ability to measure radionuclides in clinical specimens; 6% reported that another state agency or department accepted and analyzed these samples via a radioanalytical method. Of the Radiation Capabilities Survey respondents, 60% reported the ability to test environmental samples, such as air, soil, or surface water, for radiation; 48% reported the ability to test nonmilk food samples; 47% reported the ability to test milk; and 56% reported sending data for drinking water to the Environmental Protection Agency.
Conclusions: Survey data reveal serious gaps in US radiological preparedness. In 2007, federal experts estimated it would take more than 4 years to screen 100 000 individuals for radiation exposure and 6 years to test environmental samples from a large-scale radiological emergency, relying on existing laboratory assets. Although some progress has been made since 2007, public health laboratory radiological test capabilities and capacities remain insufficient to respond to a major event. Adequate preparation requires significant new investment to build and enhance laboratory emergency response networks, as well as investments in the broader public health system in which public health laboratories function.
(Disaster Med Public Health Preparedness. 2011;5:213-217)