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A Body Was Cremated. Then the Radiation Was Detected

Cancer patient's body contaminated crematorium
By Richard Kemeny,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 27, 2019 9:39 AM CST
A caution sign hangs on a fence in front of a building that houses depleted uranium at the EnergySolutions facility in Clive, Utah.   (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)

(Newser) – Radiation has been found all over a crematorium in Arizona, following the incineration of a man who'd recently received cancer treatment. Though the potential risks of cremating patients treated with "radiopharmaceuticals" have long been known by the medical community, the contamination of an entire facility hasn't been seen before, reports BuzzFeed News. The body, described in a case report, was of a 69-year-old man who had radioactive compounds injected into his veins shortly before dying. The crematorium was unaware of the treatment when they burned his body. The amounts detected were below the limit considered to be unsafe by the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

The researchers found the radioactive isotope the patient was treated with in the bone crusher, the oven, and the vacuum filter, per CNN. More worryingly, they found another radioactive material in the urine of a crematorium worker, which suggests the contamination problem could be more widespread. But detecting the materials is a complicated procedure: You can't just pass a Geiger counter over the body, per the Verge. There are currently no federal rules concerning bodies that have been exposed, a situation that has led to a patchwork of shifting laws from state to state. Thankfully, the problem seems to be confined to crematoriums, so it remains what the Verge calls a "unique occupational hazard." While new guidelines are likely to come soon, reports CNN, crematoriums can take action by ensuring workers wear protective clothing and handle all items with care. (Read more radioactive stories.)

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