Radiological Inspections Are Turned Over to State


Orange County has abruptly shut down its inspections of X-ray and mammography machines, leaving five inspectors jobless and stirring concern about the demise of a widely praised program.

County officials last week asked the state to take over the 34-year-old radiological health program, which oversees inspections of several thousand X-ray and mammography machines and assists in emergency drills for the San Onofre nuclear power plant.

The program is being terminated because efforts to recruit a new supervisor proved fruitless, county officials said. But the change will not save the county money, since the state funded the program’s annual budget of more than $500,000.


County health officials insisted the quality of inspections will not suffer. “The message we want the public to know is that there’s absolutely no danger to the public,” said Steven Wong, assistant director of environmental health at the county Health Care Agency. “We see no drop in service.”

However, the hasty changeover is stirring concern.

The program served as a safeguard for patients in need of X-rays and mammograms, supporters said.

“They had one of the best reputations in the state. Other counties would call them for advice,” said Tracy Fairchild, chief of staff for state Sen. Dede Alpert (D-Coronado), who authored a 1992 law toughening standards for mammography equipment and workers.

One laid-off inspector addressed the county Board of Supervisors on Tuesday night, calling for an investigation of why the program is being turned over to the state.

“I would like to know how difficulties in finding proper ‘leadership’ constitutes the necessity to lay off five employees, with over 34 combined total years of excellent service, and eliminate the entire Radiological Health Program,” wrote Trudy Papson in a letter to county officials. The inspectors received a memo instructing them not to enter their old office or to talk to former colleagues, Papson said.

Papson declined further comment Wednesday.

Only three counties in the state--Orange, Los Angeles and San Diego--have operated their own radiological health programs.


Inspectors conduct mandatory state and federal checks on mammogram equipment, looking for high radiation levels and poor image quality, and evaluate operators’ training. They also inspect X-ray equipment for radiation levels and accuracy and ensure nuclear medicine is properly handled.

County officials said they made their decision only within the last few weeks, rushing because the current state contract ends this month. State officials received notification of the shutdown from Orange County on June 17, the same day employees were laid off.

State inspectors from Los Angeles and Sacramento will be sent to Orange County to take over the equipment checks, said Edgar Bailey, chief of radiological health for the state Department of Health Services.

The county program also played a role in drills and potential emergencies at the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station at the northern edge of San Diego County. If a leak occurred at the plant, program employees would measure radiation levels in Orange County.

Plant spokesman Ray Golden said Wednesday that despite the shutdown, “there is still, in our opinion, adequate measures . . . that the health and safety of local residents in both San Diego and Orange counties are assured.”

Orange County officials said they decided to end the program after months of searching for a new supervisor. Robert Gregor left last winter before completing a probationary period.