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10 Bizarrely Radioactive Stories

by Shelby Hoebee
fact checked by Jamie Frater

Radioactivity is an extremely strange phenomenon that has been intensely studied over the years. To this day, we still have limited knowledge about its effects, uses, and dangers.

10 The Suburban Chernobyl


Many know that Madame Curie’s work led to her untimely demise, but few know the lasting effects that the radiation exposure has had on her belongings. Currently, her notebook is so radioactive that it must be stored in a lead box. To be able to view her personal belongings, you need protective clothing and a liability waiver.

This is not at all surprising because Curie literally walked around with hunks of polonium, radium, and uranium in her pockets. She continued to conduct her radiation experiments until she died in 1934.

Trucks were often seen dropping off the iron she used to extract her radioactive isotopes and carrying away the waste. Even today, with 90 percent of the building’s contents removed, there continues to be a mini-Chernobyl where her abandoned laboratory stands.

Many of the surrounding neighbors blame her laboratory for their cancer rates, although many maintain that the building is no longer dangerously radioactive.

9 The Radioactive Man


In May 2012, Connecticut firefighter Mike Apatow was on his way to an appointment when he was unexpectedly pulled over by a police officer. Surprisingly, he was not pulled over for a routine traffic stop but rather for being flagged as a radioactive car. This came as a surprise to Apatow because his car contained nothing radioactive, except for the driver himself.

Earlier that day, he had been injected with a small amount of radioactive material to track his blood flow during a nuclear stress test. The amount of radioactive material is extremely low, about equivalent to a CT, but it was just enough to set off the radiation detector in the police car.

What surprised Apatow the most was that police cars could even detect his radioactivity. The officer stated that the detectors are part of homeland security and that many police cars are fitted with them in Connecticut.

8 Got Your Nose


Between 1948 and 1954, 582 third graders in the Baltimore City school district were subjected to an experiment known as a nasal radium irradiation test, which left many with various types of head and neck cancer. Doctors at Johns Hopkins University used their funds from the federal government to place metal rods with sealed capsules of 50 milligrams of radium-226 in the nostrils of the children.

The parents and children were told that this was a procedure to shrink the children’s adenoids and lymph tissue, supposedly to avoid the traditional adenoidectomy. But the doctors were also testing the effects of radiation on long-term hearing loss.

This nasal radiation was prescribed by doctors to treat a variety of ailments, including allergies and colds. The radiation dose was alarming enough for the Veteran’s Administration to inform veterans who underwent a similar experiment, but with a much lower dosage, that they should be checked for lasting effects.

Many of the records of these children have been lost, and agencies are struggling to find the adults who underwent the experiments as children. Since then, some of these children have been identified after coming forward with various nasopharynx, tongue, and thyroid cancers.

Not all of the children suffered negative effects from the radiation. As a child, Regina Shaffer had problems with chronic ear infections that left her with hearing loss severe enough to affect her speaking. After undergoing the nasal radium treatment, she was soon able to hear.

As of early 2016, Regina has suffered no ill effects from the radiation. Another woman, however, was not as lucky and lost her finger and toenails a year after treatment. She also has problems with her lymph nodes.

7 The Sterility Dose


Before we ever landed on the Moon, scientists were already hard at work researching the effects that space would have on astronauts’ bodies. One of their concerns was the effects of radiation on the testicles of astronauts and the workers at nuclear power plants.

Dr. C. Alvin Paulsen and Dr. Carl Heller led the search for the dose of radiation that would render men sterile. They also studied the specific effects of radiation on certain cells of the testes, on hormone secretion, and on the amount of time for cell production to resume.

In this regard, one of the most heinous human radiation experiments involved a group of 67 Oregon prisoners and 131 Washington prisoners from 1963 to 1973. With the possibility of parole and a whopping $5 a month in compensation, inmates were lured into getting their jewels X-rayed with 400 rads of radiation (roughly equivalent to 2,400 chest X-rays) at 10-minute intervals.

But these patients were not informed of the true risks. Participants also received $100 for vasectomies following the procedure.

6 The Mysterious Appearance Of The Radioactive Lake

Born of Nuclear Blast: Russia’s Lakes of Mystery

When a huge lake randomly appears in the middle of drought-stricken Tunisia, it should be cause for celebration. The Gafsa Beach, as it has been dubbed, has become a popular attraction for the people of Tunisia as they try to escape the heat.

Although scientists are not sure how the lake formed, they believe that a seismic event created a crack in the water table and allowed groundwater to rise through it. However, the origin of the lake is not as concerning as its contents.

Just two weeks after the lake was discovered, Gafsa’s public safety authorities began telling people that it was not safe to swim in the water. But there was no official ban, so people have largely ignored the warning.

Scientists are concerned that there is a high likelihood that the lake is contaminated, if not completely radioactive, because the area is frequently mined for phosphate. The color of the lake has also changed from a turquoise blue to a murky green.

5 The Radium Water Worked Fine Until His Jaw Came Off


In the 1920s, radioactivity was all the rage. Eben Byers decided to try Radithor, a product to help treat an arm injury he suffered in a fall. Radithor was radioactive drinking water produced by the Bailey Radium Laboratory, which was founded by a man with a fake medical degree.

The idea behind Radithor came from the surprising healing effects of many hot springs. According to one theory, the healing benefits of hot springs came from radon gas that dissolved in the water.

Many people didn’t suffer the ill effects of radon water because its half-life was only 3.8 days. However, Byers continued to drink large amounts of Radithor until he suffered odd symptoms like weight loss, arthralgia, headaches, and jaw pain.

When Byers visited his physician, he was diagnosed with sinus problems and sent on his way. But when a radiologist saw his X-rays, Byers learned that the 1,500 bottles of Radithor he had consumed were causing his jawbone and teeth to literally disintegrate.

Byers hadn’t known that Radithor was not made with the mystical healing powers of radon. Instead, it contained radium, which has a half-life of 1,600 years. In addition, radium mimics calcium and collects in the bones to destroy surrounding tissue and marrow.

Eventually, Byers lost most of his upper and lower jaws along with all but two of his teeth. Holes formed in his skull from his disintegrating bone. He finally succumbed at age 51 in 1932.

Many medical professionals were stunned by how long Byers had lived and how good he had felt. He had consumed enough radiation to kill four people. When his body was exhumed, his remains were still hot from the radiation.

4 Goiania Accident

Goiânia incident Brasil

On September 13, 1987, Roberto dos Santos Alves and Wagner Mota Pereira decided to trespass on the partially destroyed Instituto Goiano de Radioterapia, a radiotherapy hospital.

Once there, they began breaking down equipment in the teletherapy unit in hopes that the scraps they were stealing would be worth some money. Both men began to vomit violently, but they ignored their symptoms and continued what they were doing.

Pereira began feeling dizzy with bouts of diarrhea. Soon, his hands began to swell, and he developed a burn in the shape of the equipment he was handling. Two days later, Pereira finally went to a local medical clinic. He was diagnosed with a stomach bug and sent home.

On September 16, the pair finally retrieved the cesium-137 capsule from the machine. Using a screwdriver, they punctured the capsule, which was glowing with a magnificent blue color.

Clearly not the brightest bulb on the tree, Alves scooped out some of the cesium chloride substance and tried to light it on fire. He thought it was gunpowder. To his surprise, it did not ignite. So the men sold it to a nearby junkyard.

Devair Alves Ferreira, the junkyard owner, believed that the glowing material had supernatural powers, so he invited his friends and family over to view it. Meanwhile, Alves’s arm and Pereira’s fingers had ulcerated to the point of needing amputation.

Over three days, Devair passed out the radioactive material like candy until his wife fell ill. His brother, Ivo, managed to scrape out some of the powder to bring to his house and spread on his cement floor. Unfortunately, Ivo’s young daughter was just as fascinated with the blue glow and spread the powder all over her body.

On September 25, Devair decided to sell the scraps to another junkyard. Fortunately for everyone involved, his wife noticed that many people around him had become extremely sick, so she retrieved the scraps from the other junkyard and brought them to a nearby hospital.

Altogether, there were four direct fatalities due to radiation exposure: Ivo’s daughter, Devair’s wife, and two employees at the junkyard. A day later, a large cleanup began taking place, although it was difficult due to the opened capsule.

3 Nuclear Scam?


Despite extensive research on the dangerous effects of radiation, there are still people, such as Galen Winsor, who believe that it is relatively harmless. After working in the nuclear industry for 35 years, Winsor came to the conclusion that the whole “mutation arising from radiation” scare was complete nonsense.

After Winsor helped to design and build a nuclear reprocessing plant in California in 1965, the plant was shut down before it could open. This left 170 metric tons of spent fuel in a 660,000-gallon pool stored in the basin. To “stick it to the man,” Winsor decided to begin swimming in the tank. He also gave the radioactive material to his colleagues without their knowledge.

Winsor was said to drink irradiated water and play with U-235 and plutonium all day without any consequences. Winsor was also known for his lectures about the harmlessness of radiation, which he gave in over 77 cities.

He stated that almost all his colleagues agreed with him but were too afraid to speak out. He also claimed that the government was trying to hide the harmlessness of radiation from the public for fear of mass pilfering if the secret ever got out.

Winsor died in 2008, but the cause of death is unclear.

2 The Mysterious Radiation Burst


Some researchers examining tree rings found an anomalous radiation burst around 1,200 years ago. According to Nature, the 14C isotope registered about 20 times greater than normal in the atmosphere for a year or less. Although it’s easy to see that an event occurred, scientists don’t know what caused it.

This carbon isotope is created when high-energy radiation hits Earth from outer space, produces neutrons that slam into nitrogen-14, and cause it to decay. Scientists have ruled out solar flares and gamma radiation from a supernova because they probably would have had other effects.

For example, two blasts from a supernova were recorded in 1006 and 1054, but they do not appear in tree rings. So this anomalous event must have been much larger than those previous incidents. Also, scientists would have seen the bright remnant of such an event.

Some scientists have also ruled out a solar flare, believing that such a massive phenomenon would have destroyed the ozone layer or produced gigantic auroras. But others disagree and are also considering the possibility that a coronal mass ejection was to blame.

Regardless, the true cause of this gigantic burst of radiation is still unknown.

1 Bionerd23

chernobyl wild zone: radioactive rabies, autumn fruit and foxes.

Following in Galen Winsor’s footsteps is a woman known only as Bionerd23. Recently, there has been an uproar about the YouTube videos of her venturing into Chernobyl’s Exclusion Zone and doing some odd things.

Reciting a quote from Marie Curie, she said that she had no fear of radiation. Bionerd23 has been seen picking up radioactive fuel, injecting herself with radionuclide technetium, and even eating an apple off an “undead tree.”

She has a showcase of over 60 videos documenting her Chernobyl adventures but is reluctant to share information about herself. She stated in an email to Atlas Obscura: “I don’t talk about that, because my person is entirely unimportant. Nobody should adore a scientist, one should adore his or her work. The person is of no importance.”

As with Windsor, she claims that no radioactivity is too dangerous as long as it is handled in small doses. Besides her crazy radioactive stunts, she also pours mercury over her bare hands.

Reminiscent of Spider-Man‘s Peter Parker, Bionerd23 is seen finding a hunk of uranium near a reactor that is crawling with ants. She allows many of the ants to bite her hands.

For skeptics who cannot believe that she is really handling that much radiation, she carries a Geiger counter that frequently goes off the charts. Despite all of her adventures, she is not scared of radiation poisoning or cancer but rather of having the dilapidated buildings collapse on top of her.

+ Potassium Iodide Tablets Won’t Save You


Photo credit: Walkerma

If you survive a nuclear disaster, you might quickly pop a potassium iodide pill to counteract the radiation. Unfortunately, it won’t work. Many people believe that potassium iodide (KI) is a cure-all for radiation poisoning. But in reality, it only saves your thyroid.

Iodine is taken from the bloodstream by the thyroid gland, which does not discriminate between radioactive and nonradioactive iodine. Taking potassium iodide does not protect you against external radiation or internal radiation from radionuclides, except for radioiodine. Unfortunately, radioactive iodine is only one of 200 radionuclides that can be produced during the fission of uranium.

So for all the doomsday preppers out there, we’re sorry to say that your stock of KI will not protect you from a nuclear bomb, a dirty bomb, or even a nuclear meltdown.

Shelby is an undergraduate at Arizona State University studying psychology and biochemistry. She is constantly fascinated by the mysteries of the world around her. Next year, she will be going on to medical school to continue studying and discovering the medical mysteries around her.

fact checked by Jamie Frater