Joint Committee on Health hears update on radiological health program

West Virginia Press Association Staff Report

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – The State Legislature’s Joint Standing Committee on Health, during the first official day of the May Interim Session on Monday, heard an overview of the radiological health program from West Virginia’s Environmental Health Services Director Jason Frame.

“The radiological health program is part of the newly formed Department of Health,” Frame began. “It resides within the Bureau for Public Health.”

According to Frame, the primary function of the radiological health program is to register radiation-producing machinery facilities within the state. This practice has been in place for decades, Frame added, and includes facilities such as dental and medical offices, hospitals, and industrial facilities.

“It’s a huge variety of machines across the state that vary vastly in their power output,” Frame noted. “There are about 2,300 machines within our registration at this point.”

The registration and inspection of mammography facilities, Frame further explained, is another component of the radiological health program. Currently, there are 66 such facilities within the State of West Virginia, which are presently regulated by the FDA. The radiological health program works in partnership with the FDA for staff accreditation, and facility inspections are performed annually. 

“Another part of our program is the registration of physicists across the State of West Virginia,” Frame continued. “These are professionals that perform services, such as machine evaluation, shielding design, and also further evaluation of mammography machines.”

“As part of their registration process, they present us with an application, their resume, and also their educational diplomas,” Frame noted, before adding that vendor registration is equally important, explaining that such registrations “allow us to know when an x-ray machine is sold or serviced.”

“If one is sold to a non-registered facility, we then immediately contact that facility and let them know that they have to register with the state,” Frame said.

Officials with the radiological health program are also tasked with responding to radiation alarms triggered throughout the state. The primary cause of alarm triggers, according to Frame, is the melting of radiological equipment into scrap. 

“Once that radiation source makes it into the steel mill and is melted down into the larger vat of material, all that material has to then be discarded, and then the facility has to be decontaminated,” Frame added.

Frame then advised committee members of West Virginia’s intention to enter into agreement with the federal Nuclear Regulatory Committee, noting that Gov. Jim Justice submitted a letter of intent in January 2023. According to Frame, the acceptance period for such an agreement takes approximately four years.

At the conclusion of Frame’s presentation, Committee Chair Del. Heather Tully, R-Nicholas, asked, “This letter of intent, this would be important if we wanted to go ahead and become involved with this – if we wanted to explore some small nuclear reactors, or if we were ever to have a nuclear plant here within the state, is that correct?”

“No, that’s not correct,” Frame replied. “It’s very important to remember that becoming an agreement-state has nothing to do with nuclear power. […] Nuclear reactors will never be regulated by a state. That will always be the federal government.”

The Joint Standing Committee on Health will meet again during the Summer Interim Session, scheduled for August 11 through August 13.