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Dirty Bombs. Bill Hall EP&R Epidemiologist Eastern Shore (VA) Health District. What is a “Dirty Bomb” ?. A dirty bomb or radiological dispersion device (RDD), is a bomb that combines conventional explosives, such as dynamite, with radioactive materials in the form of powder or pellets.

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dirty bombs

Dirty Bombs

Bill Hall

EP&R Epidemiologist

Eastern Shore (VA) Health District

what is a dirty bomb
What is a “Dirty Bomb” ?
  • A dirty bomb or radiological dispersion device (RDD),is a bomb that combines conventional explosives, such as dynamite, with radioactive materials in the form of powder or pellets.
purpose and function
Purpose and Function
  • The main purpose is to frighten people and make buildings or land unusable for a long period of time.
  • The function of a dirty bomb is to blast radioactive material into the area around the explosion.
dirty bomb vs atomic bomb
Dirty Bomb vs Atomic Bomb
  • The atomic explosions that occurred in Hiroshima and Nagasaki were conventional nuclear weapons involving a fission reaction.
  • A dirty bomb is designed to spread radioactive material and contaminate a small area.
control of material
Control of Material
  • There are over 21,000 organizations in the united states licensed to use radioactive material.
  • The Nuclear Regulatory Commission together with 32 states regulate radioactive materials.
  • Other than nuclear facilities most are of small amounts.
sources of radioactive materials
Sources of Radioactive Materials
  • Most potentially harmful type of radioactive materials can be found in:
    • Nuclear Power Plants
    • Nuclear Weapon Sites
  • Most nuclear facilities are under extreme security making it a less vulnerable option.
other source locations
Other Source Locations
  • More reasonably accessible sources of radioactive material are:
    • Hospitals
    • Construction Sites
    • Food Irradiation Plants
    • College and High School Laboratories
    • Research Facilities
    • Smoke Detector Manufacturers

Extreme risk due to minimal to

complete lack of security present

impact of a dirty bomb


Impact of a Dirty Bomb
  • The extent would depend on a number of factors:
    • Size of the explosive
    • Weather conditions
    • Density of population
    • Type of radioactive material
distance of effect
Distance of Effect

To minimize exposure maximize your distance









case history
Case History

Incidents occurring in heavily populated areas could effect several hundreds, if not thousands of potential radiation victims.

potential locations
Potential Locations
  • Potential Dirty Bomb targets are usually highly populated public areas such as:
    • Malls
    • Subways and Trains
    • Trash Cans or Dumpsters
    • Amusement Parks
    • Restaurants
    • Airports

Anywhere that people passing by might get a significant dose of radiation is a potential target hazard.

first responders
First Responders

Firefighters / Paramedics (Responding to fires, explosions, hazmat spills, and medical calls)

Law Enforcement(Investigating suspicious activity, serving warrants, etc...)

US Coast Guard(Inspecting vessels, responding to waterborne emergencies)

Hospital Emergency Department Staff(Large event and walk in emergencies)

recognition of a radiological event
Recognition of aRadiological Event
  • The radiological nature of a nuclear facility and placarded transportation accidents may be self evident, however
  • Less obvious is the radiological components of;
    • Fire involving radiological materials,
    • Radiological “dirty bomb,”
    • Dispersed material (fire, sprayed, etc…), and
    • Exposed high intensity sources.

Tools are needed to help first

Responders recognize the

radiological nature of an event.

early detection
Early Detection
  • Is your key to limiting potential exposure.
  • Time is a huge factor in howmuch exposureone could receive.
desirable properties for detection tools
Desirable Properties for Detection Tools
  • Alerts user of radiation above background
  • Detect alpha & beta radiation
  • Records dose
  • Alarms in hazardous situations
  • Work continuously without user intervention
  • Simple and intuitive, requiring little training
  • Small size, something easily worn
  • Inexpensive to purchase and maintain
detection equipment
Detection Equipment
  • Personal DosimetersRadiation meters that look like pagers, watches, key chains, rings and even pens.
electronic dosimeters
Electronic Dosimeters

The Pros

  • Alarms in hazardous situations.
  • Can identify a significant radiological event.
  • Records dose.
  • Long battery life.
  • Small size.
  • Simple operation and often very rugged.

The Cons

  • Not necessarily sensitive enough to detect low levels of radiation.
  • Won’t detect alpha or low energy beta radiation.
what to do if it actually explodes
What to do if it Actually Explodes ?
  • Move away from the immediate area. At least several blocks and go inside a building – this will limit exposure to radioactive airborne dust.
  • Remove clothes and place them in a sealed plastic bag. Save the contaminated clothes for testing.
  • Take a shower to wash off dust and dirt. This will reduce total radiation exposure absorbed through the skin.
  • Turn on local radio or TV channels for advisories and instructions from emergency personnel.
scene management
Scene Management
  • Law enforcement should maintain a perimeter around the incident.
  • Strict hot, warm and cold zones should be enforced to limit people exposed leaving the scene and potentially exposing others.
  • Medical triage should be established to prioritize patients level of medical need.
potential suspects
Potential Suspects
  • Help identify potential suspects by being observant of not-so-normal activities.
  • Warning signs may include:
    • Dress (Tourist style clothing, abnormal for current weather)
    • Speech(Broken English, foreign accent)
    • Writing(hand drawn maps, written in other language)
    • Actions(Watching clocks, looking for authority figures)
    • Markings(Tattoos, scars)

All suspicious activity should be reported to the police

immediately for questioning.

is there a risk of cancer
Is there a Risk of Cancer ?
  • Some cancers can be caused by exposure to radiation.
  • Just because you are near a radioactive source for a short time or if you are exposed to radioactive dust does not mean you will get cancer.
  • Doctors will be able to determine appropriate counteractive measures once the source and exposure level can be determined.
potassium iodide ki
Potassium Iodide (KI)
  • Potassium iodide, also called KI, only protects a person’s thyroid gland from exposure to radioactive iodine.
  • KI will not protect you after exposure. It must be taken prior.
  • KI can be dangerous to take, taking KI is not recommended unless there is a high risk of being exposed.
  • Radiological attacks constitute a credible threat, especially following September 11, 2001 tragedies.
  • Many radiological bomb making materials are easily accessible with little to no security measures present.
  • Dirty bombs likely would result in some deaths but not constitute hundreds or thousands of fatalities as could be seen in conventional high power explosives.
  • Early detection equipment, observations from law enforcement and citizens, in conjunction with level headed decisions from emergency personnel, could limit or even prevent a potential “dirty bomb” exposure from occurring and ultimately the conviction of a dirty bomber.