radiation Regulations aren’t bad, until you have a real stickler in the mix.   Unthinking, unreasoning application of a regulation wastes time, kills trees, burns watts, all in the name of some unknown benefit*.

Where, a radiology lab.  What, a sample control system.

The lab received samples from their customers.  The  environmental offices of said customers to be more precise.  After testing the samples the lab sent  reports back to the customers.

The results needed to fit on continuous form feed documents about 8.5 in by 5.5 in. This was the good old days of dot matrix printers with bidirectional heads woohoo.  (Some people still use them, huh, haven’t seen one in the last two decades or so.  Where are they hiding?)

At the time the reported results were in  picocuries(pCi).  Don’t know if anyone still reports in pCi.  At the time the world was moving to  SI units and so instead of curies maybe reports are in Becquerel(Bq).  1 Ci = 3.7×1010 Bq if you want to do the conversion.   Pico is just a standard prefix denoting one trillionth, a factor of 10−12 (0.000000000001).

So imagine if all linear units must be reported in Ångstroms( Å).  Since 1 inch is 254,000,000 Å, the 8.5 in by 5.5 in report of course is a 2,159,000,000 Å by 1,397,000,000 Å paper.

So the report might read as <1 pCi(very little measureable radition) or 3 pCi per ml +/- 1%.  The report format needed to accommodate multiple formats depending on the  radioactive isotopes being measured and the radiation type(this depends on the decay pathway/chain of the isotope) being reported.  Sounds simple.

Detection equipment may be better now, maybe the detection limits are at femtocuries fCi, don’t know.   Femto is a prefix denoting a factor of 10−15 or 0.000000000000001.

So samples arrived, measurements were taken and after reviews and checks and double checks the results were ready and reports were printed and sent to the customers.

Now a different division of the lab provided inspection teams that would visit the customers.  One thing the teams did was to validate the environmental groups’ documentation, including the afore-mentioned radiological reports.

One of the inspectors, the stickler in question, read a regulation that stated that all reporting be done in millicuries(mCi). Milli is a prefix denoting a factor of one thousandth (10−3).  So he was citing, dinging, gigging or otherwise penalizing the organizations that had reports with pCi.  All of the customers howled because their reports were wrong, therefore they were failing compliance to regulations.  The radiological division felt the heat.

Since 1 mCi = 1,000,000,000 pCi the report result needed to be  < 0.000000001 mCi.

At the time we examined multiple solutions.  The simplest was to send a letter stating that 1 mCi = 1,000,000,000 pC and they could do the conversion.  This didn’t get past the stickler.  Suggested adding a comment at the bottom that 1E-9(1x109) or 0.000000001 mCi is 1 pCi. The comment was nixed.  1E-9 was a programming convention that  represented the scientific notation 109 , because printer didn’t  support super scripts.

The report format was pretty tight and <0.000000001 mCi and similar ilk ended up breaking the detail lines.  The tech running  the radiological division of the lab was fuming because he had to reprint all the reports and send them to his customers, thus killing many trees.

*Maybe consistency of measurement units reporting is essential, but if you are reading  reported results for radioactivity, maybe it isn’t too much to expect a little arithmetic acumen at conversion.   This is what many in the lab thought, but stickler would happily penalize  away.

After walking 16,093,440,000,000,000,000 Å in the shoes of someone dealing with some yocto-brained  officious stickler making a lot of unnecessary work,  maybe I understand some of the fuming.

Now this wouldn’t be a problem.  Technology has changed from the days when 10 MB drives were 2 feet across.  Of course there are new problems and maybe a stickler making things new work.

Rigid adherence versus flexibility.  There are times when rigid adherence is absolutely necessary.  There are times when flexibility is more appropriate and negotiation is necessary.  The context and the effects are important.

The answer is always different.