In Goiânia, Brazil, a junk dealer acquires an old medical device from two scrap-metal scavengers. The device itself isn’t useful, but it comes with precious lead which will fetch him good money. There’s something else inside the device, too: a curious, crystal-like substance that glows bright blue in the dark.
At first, the dealer is mesmerised by it: he wants to turn it into jewellery for his wife. But, everyone who comes into contact with the glowing substance seems to get sick. His own family succumbs to nausea and vomiting. A doctor suggests food poisoning – but this isn’t like any food poisoning they’ve ever known before. And soon, the whole city is contaminated…
The International Atomic Energy Agency’s report, The Radiological Accident in Goiania, is a comprehensive account of the accident and its aftermath. We also drew from online sources including The Goiânia Radiation Incident: A Failure of Science and Society by Marco Antônio Sperb Leite and L. David Roper; Carla Lacerda’s blog post Sobreviventes do césio 137 – Ferida no corpo; the Transparência Nuclear blog; and reports from Correio do Estado, Jornal Opção, and the BBC.
The story of the radium girls is told in detail in Kate Moore’s book The Radium Girls, with our complementary sources including Claudia Clark’s Radium Girls: Women and Industrial Health Reform 1910-1935.