It’s no go if you glow
When Point Roberts resident Wayne Seeley crosses the U.S. border he needs to pull in for a 20-minute inspection, every time. He sets off the radiation detectors, large white boxes that line the inspection lanes.
Seeley is radioactive because part of the diagnosis and treatment of his cardiac condition is being done through radioactive imaging. He has had two recent procedures and “I glow a little for about a month,” Seeley said. While he carries paperwork from his physician about the procedures, Seeley said he needs to go into the port of entry every time the detectors go off. “They use a Geiger counter on me, then on my car, then I fill out papers,” he said. “I thought they were only going to do it once and log me in, but it’s every time.”
The detectors were installed beginning in 2003 at a cost of approximately $280,000 for each of the five land ports of entry in the county. Kenneth Williams, branch chief of cargo operations for the department of homeland security at local borders, said so far the detectors hadn’t picked up any nuclear material intended for weapons or illegal acts. However he said the detectors in the passenger lanes went off every day. “They’re triggered by radioactive isotopes, either friendly or volatile: one or two times daily but sometimes four or five,” he said, and almost always due to someone in the car undergoing medial treatment using radioactive isotopes.
In the commercial lanes every truck is checked for radiation levels and commercial shipments of everything from toilets to salt sets the detectors off. “There are many legitimate shipments with natural radiation,” Williams said, including aviation parts, slate, pottery and kitty litter. Any enforcement action taken regarding shipments that trip the detectors has not been related to any feared risks to public safety, but to more mundane things like avoiding duties. “It’s all been stuff not declared properly,” he said.
In the passenger lanes, Williams said it is unlikely products in the vehicle will trigger the detectors. “They can’t carry enough to set off the portal,” he said.