The deadly legacy of room 2.62 – or just a cancerous coincidence?

He was the man who launched the world into the nuclear age, winning a Nobel prize and laying the foundations for modern nuclear physics.

But now it appears that radiation left over from 100-year-old experiments by Ernest Rutherford, the first man to split the atom, could be partly responsible for the deaths of up to four Manchester University staff.

For years between 1909 and 1917 Professor Rutherford conducted experiments in room 2.62 of an austere red-brick Victorian building which now bears his name. There he investigated the properties of radon and polonium – which killed the Russian dissident Alexander Litvinenko – and experiments using radioactive material were carried out there until 1947. But the building was never tested for radiation and in 1972 it was handed over to the university's psychology department.

Concerns about the building's safety were raised last year after the premature death of the psychologist Hugh Wagner, who died of cancer aged 62, having worked for 20 years in room 2.62. His colleague John Clark, who worked in room 1.54, directly below Dr Wagner's room, succumbed to a brain tumour in 1993.

Then last week Arthur Reader, 69, who also worked in the Rutherford building, lost his battle against cancer, fuelling fears among his family that his death was "more than a coincidence". the Manchester Coroner Nigel Meadows has called for an inquest into his death. "I'm going to have a post-mortem examination to determine whether or not his death was unnatural – that is, whether or not he was exposed to anything during the course of his employment that may have caused or contributed to the cancer," he said. There are also concerns over the death of Vanessa Santos-Leitao, who died from a brain tumour in February after being ill for less than a year.

Source - Independent

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