Mastick snapped the slender neck of the vial. It made a small, popping sound in the quiet laboratory. Instantly the material spewed out of the bottle and onto the wall in front of him. Some of the solution ricocheted back into his mouth, flooding his lips and tongue with a metallic taste.
Not overly alarmed, Mastick replaced the vial in its wooden container. Then he trotted across the hard-packed ground of the technical area to knock on the door of Dr. Hempelmann's first-aid station. He had just swallowed a significant amount of the world's supply of plutonium. "I could taste the acid so I knew perfectly well I had a little bit of plutonium in my mouth," he said in an interview in 1995.
...After the accident, Mastick's breath was so hot that he could stand six feet away and blow the needles on the radiation monitors off scale. His urine contained detectable plutonium for many years. In one of several interviews Mastick said that he was undoubtedly still excreting "a few atoms" of plutonium but had suffered no ill effects.
...Hempelmann told Warren that he believed about ten micrograms of plutonium had entered Mastick's mouth. The mouth washings had removed all but one microgram, an infinitesimal but nevertheless hazardous amount. More important, Hempelmann thought the chemist had not inhaled any plutonium. At that time scientists knew that plutonium was extremely hazardous if it was breathed in and deposited in lung tissue. But they also were discovering that the radioactive material was not readily absorbed through the gastrointestinal tract and that it could not penetrate beyond the outer layer of human skin. Thus, most of the microgram of plutonium in Mastick's mouth undoubtedly would have passed through his digestive system and out of his body without being absorbed.
Whether his struggle with these two highly radioactive chunks of plutonium in such close proximity to each other resulted in excess radiation exposure (seems likely) or whether his struggle resulted in some form of contact that led to a toxic dose of plutonium entering his system is not clear from my notes or recollection. I do recall saying, in an offhand way, words to the effect of "So he died of radiation poisoning," and getting in response an equally offhand, "Plutonium poisoning, actually." I wrote "pluton. poisoning" in my notes.
« Older Language Bullies!... | U.S. loses faith in Canada... Newer »
This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments
Buy a Shirt