Two articles were recently written about an article that was published by Dr. Nathan Yu and colleagues in the Journal of American Medicine (JAMA) on February 26. The JAMA article was a case report dealing with a 69 year old man with pancreatic cancer who was treated with nuclear medicine at an Arizona hospital in 2017. He died days later and was cremated.
The JAMA article which you can read about here from CNN and here from LiveScience, dealt with a radiation sweep of the crematory and the crematory worker days after the episode. According to the CNN article, “Radioactivity was detected on the oven, vacuum filter, and bone crusher of an Arizona crematory where a deceased man who’d received radiation therapy was incinerated. . . . .a radioactive compound unrelated to the dead man was detected in the urine of an employee there.”
Because the employee had never undergone a medical procedure using radiopharmaceuticals, researchers believe that he inhaled the radioactive conaminant while incinerating other bodies, according to the CNN article. Again, according to the CNN article, Dr. Yu believes that more studies are needed to understand the extent of radiation contamination at crematoriums and possible health hazards for workers.
According to the LiveScience article, “the researchers found a maximum Geiger-counter reading of 25,000 counts per minute on the crematory equipment. . . . more than is considered safe but very far below the levels that would quickly cause radiation poisoning.”
Dr. Daniel Appelbaum, Chief of Nuclear Medicine at the University of Chicago Medical Center was quoted in the CNN article. He stated, “although radiotherapies have been around for decades, there are very recently becoming much more common. . . . Since this is only going to become more of a common issue going forward, we need to think about ways to identify and notify crematoriums of the potential risk and evaluate the amount of possible postmortem radioactive contamination.”
Here is another story on the subject from UPI.
Funeral Director Daily take: These articles just hopped off the page at me. I immediately thought, “What else do funeral home/crematory owners need to be aware of? I had never even thought of this possibility, but I guess that the threat is out there because every time you get an x-ray, even in the dentist office, the technician is positioned behind a shield.
As an employer you have to take notice of some of these issues that will come before employers now and in the future. . . formaldehyde exposure, prep room sanitation, and now potential radiation exposure in crematories. My guess is that OSHA will also see this article from the JAMA and this is not the last time funeral home owners will hear about it.