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Doody's Review ServiceReviewer: Douglas E Pfeiffer, MS (Boulder Community Hospital)
Description: This is a compendium of radiological health data central to the profession, mainly in the form of tables and figures. It is the latest update of the venerated Radiological Health Handbook, the 1970 reprinting of which is coveted by radiological health and medical physicists. First published in 1960 by the U.S. Public Health Service, new editions were published in 1992 and 1998, with a supplement produced in 1986.
Purpose: While much of the information in this book is available from other sources or on the Internet, having it compiled in a single volume is extremely helpful. Further, the book includes an online access code for a website with the entire text, tables, and figures, putting at the fingertips a vast amount of information. The authors intend this to be an easy-to-use and practical handbook of health physics and radiological health data for health physics practitioners, technicians, and students. Such a compilation is indeed needed, and must be updated frequently to keep up with technological and scientific progress. The authors have quite successfully retained the vital parts of the original work and its progeny, pruning it and adding to it to keep it current.
Audience: Queries on Nukeworker.com demonstrate that the audiences the authors identify are certainly seeking the information this book has. The authors do not mention medical physicists specifically, but much of the information is of great interest to this demographic as well. Many of the questions asked on the various medical physics listservs can be answered by data in these tables and figures. Both authors have backgrounds in radiological health physics and have expanded their research topics to include other environmental and non-ionizing topics. This combination appears to have given them both an understanding of the needs of radiological physics workers and the ability to include information that might have eluded the attention of more narrowly focused authors.
Features: The authors deliver the information in 16 chapters (compared to six sections in the original work). One chapter is devoted to non-ionizing radiation, including optics and ultrasound, which is a useful inclusion for those who work in both ionizing and non-ionizing environments. As the original 1960 publication did, this book provides detailed information for radionuclides, including specific activities, emission types and energies, decay series, and half-life and decay mode information for a large number of isotopes. New additions include a number of tables of data of specific interest to health and medical physicists, such as "Half-life, Decay Modes and Radioactive Decay Products of Selected Radionuclides." The authors have opted to include a large amount of diagnostic imaging dose information, such as an entirely new chapter "Radiation Doses in the Healing Arts," which includes typical doses and dose reference levels. It is helpful to have this, but it does run into the problem of being almost immediately outdated. For example, most of the CT data comes from 2007 and 2008 and therefore does not account for modern iterative reconstruction techniques that significantly reduce patient dose. The book also includes information regarding limits for deterministic effects, especially appropriate for interventional radiology, and methods for limiting patient dose. The latter is somewhat surprising, as this is not typical health physics and radiological health information. However, it could be helpful for students who are not as familiar with these methods. The authors also include a discussion of the various radiation measurement instruments, a chapter that is quite helpful for determining the appropriate device for the measurement task at hand and knowing the limitations and strengths of the categories of devices. Classical physics has been largely excised in favor of more nuclear topics, including activation and statistics. Gone are the lengthy tables for squares, square roots, trigonometric functions, and logarithms found in the first edition. The wealth of information in this work could be overwhelming and difficult to navigate. However, the index of 36 pages is complete and makes it relatively easy to locate the hidden bit of information that may be needed rarely, but vital when it is.
Assessment: Interestingly, it is the 1970 version of the handbook that is most frequently sought after. This edition preserves the essential content and dramatically expands on it. Other handbooks with subsets of this information are available along with online sources, but the completeness of this single volume makes it valuable. The extent of data it includes for diagnostic medical imaging and radiation therapy makes me wonder if it is better suited for medical physicists than health physicists. This is not truly a limitation of the book, however, because it increases its utility and potential audience. My old copy of the 1970 handbook is worn and tattered, and I've purchased an electronic copy of it because I wasn't willing to give it up. I fully expect that this new edition will become a similarly treasured reference and will be dog-eared and ragged on the shelves of many health and medical physicists. Perhaps more importantly, it will be an often-clicked bookmark in many browsers.