Study Says That Radioactive Meds Can Be Dangerous To Crematorium Workers

They’re a physical reminder of the duly departed; cremation urns for adults, and they might be a health hazard to crematorium workers, according to a case study published in the US.

According to a research letter published in Feb. 26, in the Journal of the American Medical Association, deceased people who’re cremated following receiving treatment with radioactive  medications like chemotherapy might pose a health threat to the people that operate crematoriums. The letter says that a crematorium in Arizona became the victim of radiation contamination after they cremated a man that underwent ‘radiopharmaceutical’ treatment a mere two days before his passing.

Said contamination was detected a few weeks following the 69-year-old’s cremation back in 2017, with the contaminant being lutetium 177, a radioactive particle that was used to treat the deceased person and his pancreatic neuroendocrine tumor, the report explained.

Tests were conducted to further look into the matter and found radioactive particles in the crematory operator’s urine. Notably, Lead Researcher Dr. Nathan Yu, a radiation oncologist with Phoenix’s Mayo Clinc, stated that the particles found that the operator came into contact with handling cremation urns for adults was different; technetium 99m.

The researchers noted that radioactive particles used in medical processes posses quick half-lives, meaning that they decay quickly; lutetium 177 has a half-life of about 6 days, while technetium 99m’s half-life lasts about six hours.

Senior Researcher Kevin Nelson, a Mayo Clinic Radiation Safety Expert, says that it’s actually unlikely that the radiation in this particular case is more than the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s set annual safety limit.

Doctors, however, expressed concern that crematorium employees might be put at risk of long-term health problems if they’re regularly exposed to these particles in their work, which is particularly problematic due to the popularity of cremation in the US; where more than half of the depart opt for cremation.

While Nelson note that the cremation urns for adults that are held at home aren’t a radiation exposure threat, due to the particles decaying quickly, and the ash blocking a considerable amount of it.

Director of Global Cancer Dr. Paolo Boffetta, Icahn School of Medicine at NYC’s Mount Sinai, says that it’s not a carcinogenic risk, but that it’s still a source of exposure, which can lead to issues, and is still a health concern.