(TTUHSC) In late 1983, just across the Rio Grande in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, potentially the worst spill of radioactive material in North American history occurred, ultimately affecting 200 people who were exposed to radiation as a result.
The incident, involving an improperly discarded radiation therapy machine for cancer treatment, is just one of the ways radiation exposure can cause a catastrophic event and emphasizes the importance of ensuring first responders are trained to respond.
The Southwest Center for Pediatric Environmental Health (SWCPEH) at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso recently conducted online training to prepare Spanish-speaking emergency first responders on the U.S.-Mexico border for radiation emergencies.
One of the leading resources for radiation emergency training is the “Advanced Hazmat Life Support for Radiological Incidents & Terrorism” course produced by the University of Arizona. To make the course accessible to Spanish speakers, SWCPEH staff translated the course’s book and teaching slides into Spanish for UArizona.
On Jan. 12, 2022, the SWCPEH delivered the four-hour online course in Spanish to emergency first responders across the Mexican state of Chihuahua. Participants included first responders from Ciudad Juárez, and Villa Ahumada and Chihuahua City, about 80 miles and 240 miles south of El Paso, respectively.
Radiation emergencies can be caused by the accidental release of radiation from a nuclear power plant, or an accident involving the transportation or storage of radioactive materials. Radiation exposure can also result from war and terrorism, such as the detonation of a dirty bomb (explosives mixed with radioactive material) or a nuclear blast.
Exposure to high levels of radiation can lead to serious acute radiation sickness and death within days, weeks or months; low levels of radiation can increase the risk of cancer over a lifetime.
Scott Crawford, M.D., FACEP, CHSOS, director of the Training and Educational Center for Healthcare Simulation (TECHS) at TTUHSC El Paso, was part of the SWCPEH team that delivered the Spanish-language course.
“Because of the fortunate rarity of radiation events, this training is particularly important, as few health care providers at any level have received formal education in the identification or management of radiation injuries,” Dr. Crawford said. “This course brings together the available literature from incidents that have occurred to give guidance on how to recognize, treat and understand the prognosis for radiation injuries. This type of training is rarely covered in any other formal training.”
In return for SWCPEH’s translation of the book and online course, UArizona agreed to allow use of the content at no charge to SWCPEH course participants.
As its name suggests, the mission of the Southwest Center for Pediatric Environmental Health is to reduce environmental health threats to children. Although anyone can be harmed by radiation exposure, children are more vulnerable than healthy adults. This is because children have more growing and dividing cells in their organs and tissues, and they have many more years ahead of them, opening a larger window of time to develop cancer.
Headquartered at TTUHSC El Paso, the SWCEPH is one of 10 Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Units (PEHSU) in the U.S. and provides services to Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico and Oklahoma.
This is the first large-scale language translation activity supported by the SWCEPH, but TTUHSC El Paso’s PEHSU has worked to develop and provide educational support and outreach material in both English and Spanish for local initiatives.
The PEHSU has supported several smaller dual-language training activities, including videos on hurricane preparedness, heavy metals and more, in collaboration with TTUHSC El Paso’s Department of Pediatrics. The group has also worked with the Department of State Health Services to educate home childcare centers on safe cleaning during the COVID-19 pandemic. Local training resources for regional promotores (community health care workers) have also been delivered through work and presentations.
Dr. Crawford, Stephen Borron, M.D., M.S., FAACT, FAAEM, FACEP, FACMT, Jesus Diaz, M.D., and Salvador Baeza, Pharm.D., DABAT, were recognized with the Advanced HAZMAT Life Support International Award for Excellence and Innovation in Education at the North American Congress of Clinical Toxicology’s October 2021 Advanced HAZMAT Life Support executive meeting.