Radiation Contamination at a Crematorium

Bottom Line: Radioactive compounds known as radiopharmaceuticals are used in nuclear medicine procedures to diagnose and treat disease. This research letter reports on radiation contamination at an Arizona crematorium where a man with a pancreatic tumor was cremated after treatment with an intravenous radioactive drug. A later examination of the crematorium found evidence of radiation contamination on equipment, including the oven, vacuum filter and bone crusher. A trace amount of a different type of radioactive compound not used in the man with the pancreatic tumor was also detected in the crematory operator’s urine, suggesting he may have been possibly exposed to that compound while cremating other human remains. Regulations for cremating patients treated with radiopharmaceuticals vary by state and internationally. More studies are needed to evaluate the extent of radiation contamination at crematoriums and the potential health effects of exposure for crematorium employees, especially with a cremation rate greater than 50 percent in the United States in 2017.

Authors: Nathan Y. Yu, M.D., Mayo Clinic, Phoenix, Arizona, and coauthors.