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Uranium in Hair

The subject of uranium in hair first appeared at Hanford about 3 or 4 years ago.
Allergy testing and therapy has long been a staple medical practice in this area
for the many varieties of pollens, etc here.  In the space of about 6-8 months
we had three inquiries about uranium in hair from Hanford workers.  In all cases
they or their family members  were seeing allergy specialists which we learned
were "clinical ecologists".  As the lead Hanford internal dosimetrist, I spoke
with our occupational medicine group and the local public health director.  They
explained to me that "clinical ecology"  was a fringe group in the medical world
who use their own labs and pretty much talk only to themselves - their basic
philosophy is that the multitude of man-made pollutants in the world are
responsible for a host of toxic (allergy) responses.
No one was able to answer my questions regarding the quality or the test,
precautions to assure the hair wasn't externally contaminated, or how the tests
could differentiate from shampoo/conditioner residual, dirt, or metabolic
An opportunity to deal more closely with the issue came when our internal
dosimetry technician's son had the test performed and was told the results were
higher than normal.  She showed me the results - as Barbara Hamrick noted, it
was just a bar chart presentation that showed the result outside the "normal"
bound.  When the doctor presented the results to her, he said they were high,
but admitted that he really didn't know what that meant.  When I reviewed the
test results given her, it was apparent that the test was a screening test for a
large number of heavy metals.  It wasn't obvious to me what testing method was.
I spoke with my own allergist (who probably treated Methuselah) and he said he
wasn't really familiar with the test but from what I described he had lots of
problems with it.  He immediately shared my concerns on the test quality and
sampling methods.
In dealing with the concerned people, we have emphasized the environmentally
pervasive nature of uranium and the potential for sample contamination from
natural soil and cosmetic products, which though quite low, could
impact a test.  We have emphasized that urine is a much better mechanism for
analyzing intake of uranium because there is little problem in trying to
separate what might be external contamination from true uptake.  We also note
the sensitivity of urinalysis and its use for worker monitoring.  My personal
allergist concurred with this explanation also.  As an aside, none of the
concerned people were actually involved with occupational exposure to uranium.
This subject hasn't come up again here at Hanford for a couple of years.  Now
I'm beginning to wonder if we'll hear more about it again.
Gene Carbaugh
Internal Dosimetry
Pacific Northwest National Laboratory
Richland, WA

Gene.carbaugh@pnl.gov <mailto:Gene.carbaugh@pnl.gov>