When workers cremated a 69-year-old cancer patient in America, they were unaware of one, crucial fact – his body was radioactive.
The man died in one hospital – but had been treated the previous day with radioactive compound to target his tumour.
When his remains were cremated, there was still a potentially dangerous dose of the radioactive isotope lutetium Lu 177 dotatate in his body.
A month after the cremation, workers used a Geiger counter to test the cremation chamber, oven, vacuum filter and bone crusher – and found elevated levels of radiation.
Study co author Kevin Nelson said, ‘This wasn’t like the second-coming of Chernobyl or Fukushima, but it was higher than you would anticipate,.’
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The chemical could potentially have put crematorium workers at risk of inhaling the radioactive isotope while cleaning.
The laws around how the remains of people who have been treated with a radioactive compound are complex, Science Alert reports.
Researchers from the Mayo Clinic wrote, ‘Radiopharmaceuticals present a unique and often overlooked postmortem safety challenge.
‘Cremating an exposed patient volatilises the radiopharmaceutical, which can then be inhaled by workers (or released into the adjacent community) and result in greater exposure than from a living patient.’