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MCHD looking to support first responders with radiological expertise

MORGANTOWN — What happens if first responders arrive at a crash site and suspect the presence of radioactive materials? 

A memorandum of understanding being drawn up between the Monongalia County Hazardous Incident Response Team and the Monongalia County Health Department will consider just that. 

MCHD Executive Director Anthony DeFelice and Monongalia County Health Officer Dr. Lee Smith said the health department has an eight-member team ready to provide that backup when needed.  

“They really don’t have a lot of depth when it comes to rad/nuclear and they know that we do so they reached out to us to provide that for them,” Smith recently told members of the Monongalia County Commission. “We’re not going to respond to every HAZMAT situation, but back of the envelope calculation, they think that probably four times a year they get a call that may contain something dealing with [radiation or nuclear material.]”   

In 2015, the West Virginia Center for Threat Preparedness and Homeland Security designated MCHD as the radiation response team for northern West Virginia. 

Smith is the only certified Radiological Operations Support Specialist in the state, making him West Virginia’s foremost authority on radiological and nuclear incident response. 

“Prior to this year, we had enough equipment that we could define what was a safe area and what was a hazardous area, and we could drop cones and cordon an area off. Our training has continued to advance and now we have the ability to identify specific radio isotopes,” he said. 

“We’re probably never going to be in a position to go clean up an area … but if there were injured parties or a need to save vital infrastructure, we would have the information to be able to say, ‘OK, you can send in this many people for this many minutes.'”

Later this year, personnel from MCHD will participate in the inspection of Beaver Valley Nuclear Power Plant, in Shippingport, Pa. The team will also be involved in training at the state and regional level. 

“This is expertise that a lot of health departments don’t have,” DeFelice said. “With the future, who knows what’s going to happen? It’s not if an event is going to happen, it’s when is it going to happen and where is it going to happen.” 

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