An inspection of an Arizona crematorium revealed radioactivity on the oven, vacuum filter, and bone crusher after a deceased man who underwent radiation therapy was cremated.
According to the case report published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association, a different radioactive compound was also detected in an employee urine sample.
Medical procedures such as PET scans use radioactive compounds and dyes to help doctors diagnose and treat disease. While some radiation may exit a living radiotherapy patient's body, incineration of a dead body "volatizes" radiopharmaceuticals.
Dr. Nathan Yu of the Department of Radiation Oncology at the Mayo Clinic in Phoenix and his co-authors wrote that the resulting radioactive contamination can be inhaled and "result in greater exposure than from a living patient."
The cremated 69-year-old man underwent nuclear treatment for a pancreatic tumor at an Arizona hospital in 2017. One month after his cremation, a safety officer from the hospital's radiation department surveyed crematory equipment with a Geiger counter, a device used for detecting ionizing radiation. The inspection showed radioactivity pertaining to the isotope contained in the medicine given to the patient on the oven, vacuum filter, and bone crusher.
The different isotope from the worker’s urine sample suggests that the employee had been exposed to a different contaminant from incinerating other bodies. According to Dr. Daniel Appelbaum, chief of nuclear medicine and PET Imaging at the University of Chicago Medical Center, the worker “did not receive a 'significant' amount" of radiation exposure to pose risk to his/her health.