Traces of radiation in the urine of a crematorium came from the treatment of a deceased cancer patient.


Radioactivity was detected on the furnace, vacuum filter and bone crusher of an Arizona crematorium where a deceased man who had received radiation therapy was incinerated, according to a new report from case. Even worse, a radioactive compound unrelated to the deceased was detected in the urine of an employee who was there.

"It is plausible that the crematorium operator was exposed by incinerating other human remains," said Dr. Nathan Yu, of the Radiation Oncology Department at the Mayo Clinic in Phoenix, and his co-workers. authors wrote in the

case report,

published Tuesday in JAMA.

Radioactive compounds are used in some medical procedures to diagnose and treat diseases. PET scans, for example, use a radioactive dye to help doctors see tissues and organs, and some cancer treatments use radioactive compounds to target tumor cells.

The case report tells of a 69-year-old man with a pancreatic tumor who had been treated with nuclear drugs at a hospital in Arizona in 2017. He died a few days later and was cremated five days after treatment.

Upon hearing of the patient's death, a radiation safety officer from the hospital informed the crematorium and, one month after the treatment, examined the equipment for assistance. a Geiger counter. An employee urine sample was also analyzed.

Incineration "volatilizes" radiopharmaceuticals into a dead body, and radioactive contamination can be "inhaled by workers (or released into the neighboring community) and result in greater exposure than that of a living patient." ", wrote Yu and his co-authors.

The Geiger counter detected a range of radioactivity (mainly the isotope contained in the drug administered to the patient) on the equipment of the crematorium: the oven, the vacuum filter and the bone grinder.

A different isotope has been detected in the employee's urine. Since he had never had a medical intervention involving radiopharmaceuticals, the researchers believe that he inhaled the radioactive contaminant during the incineration of other bodies.

With the current rate of cremation in the United States reaching 50%, Yu and his co-authors believe that more studies are needed to understand the extent of radioactive contamination of crematoria and the potential health risks of crematoriums. workers.

Dr. Daniel Appelbaum, head of the Department of Nuclear Medicine and PET Imaging at the Medical Center of the University of Chicago, said that radiation therapy has been around for decades but that it is "very recently have become much more common ".

"We have a group of new radiation therapies that have just arrived and several others that are on the horizon for some very common cancers, including prostate cancer," said Appelbaum, who was not not involved in the case report. The latest figures available, dating from 2006, indicate that

18.6 million

nuclear medicine procedures

were made in the United States and nearly 40 million worldwide.

Since "this will only become a common problem in the future", we need to think about ways to identify and notify crematoria of the potential risk and to assess the degree of radioactive contamination post possible death, he said.

There are guidelines and regulations on this, Appelbaum said. the

Nuclear Regulatory Commission

has set a limit below what is safe and does not "pose any significant risk to an individual.This crematorium worker has not received this amount, he has not received a" significant "amount" , did he declare.

"We live in a world of radioactivity, we can not avoid everything," he said. "You go on a plane, you climb a mountain, you even watch television, you received radiation." Nevertheless, he said, "if there are reasonable and fairly simple measures we can do to minimize radioactivity, why not do it?"

Cremation regulations for patients who have received nuclear medicine vary from state to state and there is no federal regulation in the United States. Yu and his co-authors are asking for "future safety protocols" including "post mortem management, such as evaluating the radioactivity of patients who died before cremation and the normalization of crematorium notification".

Appelbaum believes that new guidelines will emerge, but in the meantime, crematoriums can do this and protect their workers. "Start with a rigorous application of the mask, gloves and manipulation techniques," he said.


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