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U.S. Doc: Brazil Radiation Accident Worst in West

October 9, 1987

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil (AP) _ A U.S. doctor with the World Health Organization on Thursday classified a recent radiation accident in Brazil as the worst ever in the Western world.

Dr. Gerald Hanson, in Brazil to help in the treatment of radiation poisoning victims who rubbed glittering cesium-137 on their bodies and even ate some of the phosphorescent powder, told Globo TV network, the nation’s largest, that only the Chernobyl nuclear accident in 1986 was worse.

The United States, the Soviet Union, East Germany and Argentina responded to an appeal this week made through the International Atomic Energy Association in Vienna, Austria for help in treating 10 patients hospitalized in Rio in critical condition.

The 10 were flown to Rio last week after coming into direct contact with the radioactive isotope used in the treatment of cancer patients. They were hospitalized with hair loss, lesions in the mouth and throat, and a sharp decline in white blood cells.

Five were not expected to live, while the other five had only a 50 percent chance of living, specialists said.

Among those not expected to live was a 6-year-old, Leide Das Neves Ferreira, who rubbed the radioactive material over her body and even tasted the substance.

Six patients were hospitalized in slightly better condition in Goiania, the cental Brazilian city 850 miles northwest of Rio, where the accident occurred last week.

The victims were poisoned by the cesium, found by a scavenger encased in lead in the ruins of a partly demolished hospital. He sold the 250-pound capsule to a junkyard as scrap.

The junkyard owner broke open the lead casing around the cesium and removed the powder, which was admired as ″beautiful″ by friends and neighbors, taken into homes, flushed down toilets and carried around in pockets.

Once the contamination was found, 30 families were moved from the area, their houses closed for radiation checks and an isolation post set up in a local soccer stadium to check people for radiation poisoning.

Helicopters circled the neighborhood and found high levels of radioactivity.

Nuclear specialists prepared to remove contaminated objects from the homes near the junkyard.

Residents said they have been ostracized by friends and relatives in the city of 800,000 people.

″Everybody thinks we are a band of leppers,″ said Maria Dos Santos, whose family has been left homeless by the incident.

The federal police are investigating to determine legal responsibility for the contamination.

″There is no doubt there was negligence,″ said Health Secretary Antonio Falera of Goias state, a farming region of which Goiania is the capital. ″The owner of the hospital should have told the National Nuclear Energy Commission the instiution had been deactivated and that was not done.″

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