September 13, 1987
When it happened, the 1987 Goiânia accident in Goiás, Brazil, was the worst accident involving a radioactive source that the world had ever seen. Two men scavenged a billiard ball-size capsule of highly radioactive cesium chloride from the Instituto Goiano de Radioterapia, a partially demolished former radiotherapy institute. The men, thinking it had junkyard value, opened the capsule, emitting radioactive material, and then sold it to a junkyard owner. The contaminated capsule was passed around a Brazilian scrapyard for more than two weeks before being properly identified, with many of the people going so far as applying the glittery radioactive blue powder emanating from the capsule onto their faces. About 130,000 people visited hospitals in a panic, and 250 people were found to be contaminated by radioactive residue, with 20 of them requiring treatment for radiation sickness. Four people died from exposure to radiation, including the two men who scavenged the capsule, the wife of the junkyard owner who purchased the capsule, and a 6-year-old girl who applied the blue powder to her face. "Before the 1987 accident, the regulations were weak when it came to controlling radiation used in medicine and industry worldwide,"
said Eliana Amaral, International Atomic Energy Agency director of Radiation, Transport and Waste Safety. "There was no awareness that sources must be controlled from "cradle to grave" and to prevent the public accessing them. After the accident [new] concepts were fostered."