A Man Exposed His Family To Radiation By Urinating In His Backyard

An Australian man inadvertently exposed his family to potentially dangerous radiation when he decided to pee in his backyard.

According to a new report from the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA), the man had decided to discharge himself from the hospital after being treated with nuclear medicine. Because of the radioactive isotopes involved, he was advised to only use a toilet. But he ignored his doctor's orders and relieved himself in the yard.

"Communication issues with the patient were identified as a factor in this incident," the report indicated.

The man was finally convinced to return to the hospital to complete decontamination by ARPANSA staff and the hospital's radiation safety officer. Once exposed turf and soil were removed from the yard, workers were able to clear 95 percent of the contamination.

According to the American Cancer Society, patients receiving radiotherapy should flush twice after each trip to the bathroom and wash their hands well. Getty Images

It's not clear what the man was being treated for, though he was administered iodine-131, a common treatment for hyperthyroidism.

Iodine-131 has a radioactive decay half-life of about eight days and, according to the Delaware Department of Health and Social Services, emits medium energy gamma rays and beta particles, "which disrupt molecules in cells and deposits energy in tissues, causing damage."

Side effects from very large doses can include skin burns, nausea, hair loss, stomach distress and even death. Long-term health risks include increased risk of thyroid cancer, especially among children and pregnant women, though to what extent depends on the route, amount and duration of exposure.

Iodine-131 is a by-product of nuclear reactor operations—in a serious power plant accident it could be released into the air.

radiation workers stock photo
Even moderate levels of radiation can cause skin rashes, headaches, vomiting and fever. Getty

ARPANSA called on hospitals to identify patients taking radioactive medicine, so they can be better informed about not contaminating others. According to the American Cancer Society, patients receiving radiotherapy should flush twice after after each trip to the bathroom and wash their hands well.

Those receiving radiotherapy should also avoid contact with children, pregnant women and pets and keep an arm's length between themselves and anyone who spends more than two hours close to them daily.

Of course, that means no kissing or sexual contact, usually for at least a week.

In all, the ARPANSA report covered 575 nuclear accidents in Australia throughout 2017. Most involved nuclear medicine, as nuclear reactors have been banned in Australia since 1998.

One incident involved a hospital breaking a vial of liquid radioisotopes while warming it up in a microwave. No staffers suffered significant radiation exposure, though the microwave had to be decontaminated.

In another, a laser operator suffered eczema and other side effects because the area she was working in had poor ventilation and her employer neglected to tell her to wear a filtration mask.

And in a particularly frightening incident, a worker accidentally spilled radioactive material trying to open the cap on a irradiated compound. Though they were wearing two sets of gloves, their hands still suffered "tissue reactions" and their lab coat and oversleeves were contaminated. Other people in the room were advised to leave.

Radiation use in Australia "is generally very safe," the report indicated, but accidents can happen "even with strict controls in place."