A (Scientific) Curse Kept Killing The People Of Apartment 85
In 1981, a woman living in an apartment in Ukraine quickly fell ill and died. It was leukemia, said doctors, and the whole thing had happened too quick to do anything. One year later, her younger brother, who lived in the same apartment, also died of leukemia. After that, their mother died. Once again, the culprit was leukemia.
Cancer simply ran in the family, concluded doctors. That was the most reasonable explanation (leukemia is not contagious). And yet while your genes affect your risk of cancer, they don’t do so that strongly. If your brother or sister has leukemia, that makes you only a few percentage points more likely to get the disease than some random other person. Even though they were related, it was very unlikely that all three of these people living in this one apartment should die from leukemia in such a short time span.
After these deaths, a new family moved into this same apartment. One of the sons soon died. You guessed it: It was leukemia. The other son got the disease as well, and while this one survived, the two cases were enough for the family to push for an inspection of the building. This turned up something that no cursory examination would. Radiation poured out of one wall, from a capsule of caesium-137 embedded there.
To find out why, we have to rewind to the previous decade. In the Karansky quarry in the Donetsk Oblast, workers had to test the rock for radiation. The rock, which eventually found its way into the apartment building ... did not have any radioactive source, no. But the gauge the workers used did. One day, they lost the gauge in the quarry and never recovered it. Quarry operations smashed the gauge apart and smooshed the caesium capsule from within into the stone.
That stone, crushed, became part of the concrete that made up that apartment’s wall. Besides the four people in that apartment who died as a result, the radiation measurably affected 17 other residents.
We’re not saying you have to bring a Geiger counter the next time your check out apartments. But if you’re already scanning for mold and ghosts, a quick check for radiation as well can’t hurt.
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Top image: Artemka/Wiki Commons