Saturday, January 9, 2016

Unclean!

On September 13, 1987, two thieves entered an abandoned clinic in Goiania, State of Goia, Brazil, and dismantled a machine used for radiation therapy. From it they took a stainless steel cylinder, which they broke apart with a sledge hammer an then sawed open a one-cubic-ince capsule filled with a glittering powder - cesium 137... 1,250 curies of it. Children in the junkyard began to play with it, and the workers took some home with them. Two weeks later, four people died, one was to have his arm amputated, and several skin grafting operations were required for those having had intimate contact with the highly radioactive isotope.

Four deaths from fire, traffic or a trench collapsing might have been totally overlooked by the news. But death by radiation is our modern-day leprosy. Fear of radioactive contamination caused the wholesale value of the entire agricultural production of the state to fall by 50%. Vacationers, afraid of the "invisible killer," cancelled 40% of the hotel rooms booked for the tourist season; conventions were moved to other states or called off. Hotels in other parts of the country refused to register Goians, while airline pilots and taxi drivers denied them transportation. Cars with Goiania license plates were stoned.

Of the 125,000 individuals who insisted on a Geiger scan, 8.3% showed signs of acute stress (extreme anxiety, rashes, vomiting, diarrhea) from fear - yet not one was found contaminated. The funeral of the first victim had to be delayed while police stopped the stoning and removed barricades at the cemetery. Where did this paralyzing fear of radiation come from? I would suspect that the Goian newspapers printed stories similar to those noted in Bernard Cohen's table of New York Times stories, resulting in similar attitudes toward the dangers of radiation.