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Two Radiation Victims Die

October 24, 1987

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil (AP) _ A 6-year-old girl and her aunt died of radiation poisoning Friday, the first fatalities in a nuclear accident last month that has contaminated at least 243 people, officials said.

Leide Das Neves Ferreira and her 37-year-old aunt, Maria Gabriela Ferreira, died of ″septicemia and generalized infection″ at the Marcilio Dias navy hospital in Rio de Janeiro, Dr. Jose Maria Sampaio said by telephone.

The poisoning resulted from a lead capsule containing radioactive cesium 137 that was left at an abandoned radiation treatment clinic in the central city of Goiania. The capsule found its way into the hands of Mrs. Ferreira’s husband, junk dealer Devair Alves Ferreira.

Ferreira broke open the protective casing with a sledgehammer and took out the glowing powder. Relatives, friends and neighbors were fascinated by the powder. They passed it among friends and rubbed it on their bodies. Ferreira’s niece, Leidi, ate some of it.

Dr. Gerald Hanson of the World Health Organization called it the worst radiation accident in the Western world and the most serious after the Chernobyl disaster in the Soviet Union last year. WHO was helping Brazilian health authorities with the accident.

Goiania, with a population of 700,000, is 850 miles northwest of Rio.

Forty-three victims were hospitalized, and 11 of the most seriously affected, including the Ferreiras, were transferred to the Rio navy hospital.

Sampaio said the victims suffered from open sores, hair loss, burns and severe depletion of white blood cells.

Ms. Ferreira’s condition became worse Friday, she lapsed into mental confusion and died just before noon, doctors said. Her niece, who had severe lesions on her throat and tongue, died Friday night.

The government news agency EBN said the bodies of the victims would be buried in a common cemetery in Goiania but in special fiberglass coffins with a lead lining to prevent the spread of radiation.

Ferreira was listed in critical condition at the Rio navy hospital and doctors said he had a ″minimal″ chance of surviving.

The National Nuclear Energy Commission isolated 11 areas in Goiania and collected 30 tons of radioactive material, including clothes, tools, junkyard scrap and paper and even soil. The material was sealed in concrete and steel drums for storage.

The government planned to dump the waste at an air force base in the Amazon jungle. But after a protest by Indians and local officials, the commission said the waste would be stored just outside Goiania.

Commission President Rex Nazare said the radioactive sites had all been found and isolated and there was no further danger of contamination.

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