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Wed Dec 27, 2017, 08:31 AM

Distribution of plutonium, uranium and thorium in the tissues of deceased nuclear weapons workers.

In the cold war era there were a number of accidental - and regrettably a number of deliberate - exposures of human beings to nuclear materials.

Some of this has been covered in Eileen Welsome's excellent book The Plutonium Files.

Wandering around, and correctly filing some files I've collected over the years and never read, I came across a cool paper published a few years back about the distribution of the actinide elements plutonium, uranium and thorium, in nuclear workers who were inadvertently exposed to these elements on the job. The tissues were obtained from those collected from those workers after their deaths. The paper is here: Elemental Bio-imaging of Thorium, Uranium, and Plutonium in Tissues from Occupationally Exposed Former Nuclear Workers (Doble et al Anal. Chem., 2010, 82 (8), pp 31763182)

The paper includes a description of each of the nuclear workers' accidents, as well as their age at the times of their deaths as well as the cause of death.

The text describing the cases of three sampled workers is worth repeating:

USTUR Case 0303
Case 0303(21) was employed for 30 years at the Hanford complex. He was involved in several minor plutonium exposures and a major exposure in 1968, when he punctured his protective glove and cut his finger on Pu-contaminated equipment. The wound was heavily contaminated with soluble plutonium. Tissue surrounding the wound was excised and intravenous administration of Ca-DPTA enhanced his urinary excretion of plutonium. He did not work with uranium. The registrant died in 2008 at age 87. A tracheobronchial lymph node (taken at autopsy) was studied here.

USTUR Case 0246
This registrant was employed at the Hanford nuclear materials complex in Washington, USA for 25 years.(22) In 1976, an ion-exchange column containing approximately 100 g of 241Am that he was working on exploded, causing him severe acid burns and cuts to his face and upper body. Intravenous Ca-DPTA treatment was commenced promptly, followed by several years of intravenous Zn-DPTA chelation therapy. The Registrant died in 1987 at 75 years of age, from emphysema. Prior to his accidental 241Am exposure, he had suffered a myocardial infarction and coronary artery disease. A right lung superior lobe (taken at autopsy) was studied here.

USTUR Case 1060
This Registrant worked at the Hanford complex for 40 years, where he was chronically exposed to uranium from 1948 to 1950 while working in the uranium melt plant.(23) The form of the uranium was most likely U3O8. Urinalysis suggested there was a single acute incident of uranium exposure occurring in 1948 in addition to chronic U dietary intake. This registrant was also involved in several plutonium contamination incidents and was potentially exposed to elevated airborne plutonium concentrations on two occasions, but only one urine measurement exceeded the minimum detectable activity (MDA) for plutonium. The registrant died (in 2008) at age 83, of a cerebral infarct due to thrombosis of the left carotid artery. A left parabronchial lymph node (taken at autopsy) was studied here.


Laser ablation mass spectrometry imaging is a remarkable analytical technique that has been utilized and advanced notably by Dr. Richard M. Caprioli at Vanderbilt University's Mass Spectrometry Research Center. The technique usually involves imaging of biomolecules (by advanced, but traditional organic molecule focused mass spectrometry) in tissues taken from diseased and healthy patients and represents a tremendous tool for the elucidation of the molecular biology of human disease. It is known by the acronym MALDI-TOF and related terms.

This paper represents one of the few papers I've seen that utilizing LA-ICP/MS (for Laser Ablation Inductively Coupled Plasma Mass Spectrometry) which measures inorganic atoms, in this case actinides.

Here is an image from the tissue of subject USTUR case 407:



The caption: Figure 1. Photomicrograph (top) and m/z 232, 238, 239, and 240 images (65 μm scan spot) of paratracheal lymph node from USTUR case 0407.

This subject's history is not given in this paper, but googling information about him (or her) I was able to learn that he or she lived 47 years after the exposure and died from a Subarachnoid Hemorrhage.

Here's another image from subject USTUR 0303:



Caption: Figure 4. Photomicrograph (top) and m/z 232 and 238 images (65
μm scan spot) of right tracheobronchial lymph node from USTUR case
0303.

Note that the concentrations of these elements are on the order of 100 ng/g (nanograms per gram). Modern mass spectrometry is sufficient these days to measure concentrations of bioactive pharmaceuticals and biomarkers that are 3 orders of magnitude lower, at a level of pg/g (picograms per gram), and a few very advanced accelerator based mass specs even lower than that femtograms/gram.

Many compounds are known to be toxic a pg/g levels.

I wish you happiness and success in the coming year.

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Reply Distribution of plutonium, uranium and thorium in the tissues of deceased nuclear weapons workers. (Original post)
NNadir Dec 2017 OP
eppur_se_muova Dec 2017 #1
NNadir Dec 2017 #2

Response to NNadir (Original post)

Wed Dec 27, 2017, 12:45 PM

1. As the widow of another 87 year old remarked: "The liquor finally killed him."

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Response to eppur_se_muova (Reply #1)

Wed Dec 27, 2017, 01:51 PM

2. When my grandmother died, her sisters gathered around the coffin to declare...

..."She was so young!"

She was 89.

Many of us young folks had a hard time resisting side splitting laughter.

I think these particular cases give lie to the made up "science" of that moron Ralph Nader, who declared, having absolutely no knowledge of science or no data to support his garbage remark, that "Plutonium is the most toxic substance known!"

The urban myth has been around for a long time; it's an ignorant statement, but some people take it seriously.

Plutonium is both a radiological and chemo toxic agent, but it's nowhere near the most toxic substance known.

I would note that although microcystin LR has an LD50 of around 7 micrograms for a 70 kg human being, the water supply of an entire city, Toledo, was contaminated with it because people are afraid of plutonium. That contamination was, in part, a subject of climate change.

I believe that one of the people who took this "plutonium is the most dangerous stuff ever" nonsense seriously was the scientist Michio Kaku, who authored some mass ignorance trying to stop the Cassini mission, which he argued could potentially kill everyone on earth.

He has a cool haircut, and for some reason is very widely exposed among popular science types who get most of their science by watching television, but where nuclear issues are concerned, he's a complete and total idiot.

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