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ARPANSA’s radon laboratory contributes to fight against COVID-19

7 September 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted our everyday lives and presented significant challenges on a global scale.

From the provision of supplies to hospitals, including Optically Stimulated Luminescence (OSL) monitors, which allow for the continuance of medical imaging and radiation therapies, to ensuring that Australia’s radiation safety isn’t compromised, ARPANSA has been playing a part in helping to maintain essential services during the pandemic.

We’ve also been contributing to research in characterisation of airborne particles. This research is helping hospitals and engineers develop additional controls to stop the spread of coronavirus in medical settings.

Hospitals are facing an enormous challenge, particularly where staff are performing procedures that generate airborne particles on patients diagnosed with COVID-19.

Working with a team of doctors, engineers and scientists from Western Health, The University of Melbourne and CSIRO, ARPANSA has assisted in characterising the aerosols generated by COVID-19 patients.

Dr Gillian Hirth, ARPANSA’s Chief Radiation Health Officer and Deputy CEO, described how ARPANSA’s radon laboratory has been used to characterise airborne particles.

‘We’ve been able to deploy the advanced nanoparticle measurement capacity of our radon laboratory to measure particle sizes and behaviour. This information is valuable in helping protect doctors and nurses from COVID-19.’ 

‘Through monitoring the nature of these small particles, we’ve been able to work with engineers to develop a robust additional control to keep airborne particles away from healthcare workers,’ said Dr Hirth.

While the research is ongoing, the data collected from the program is assisting in designing better ventilation systems for hospitals and allowing for more effective and targeted use of protective equipment.