Scott Westerfeld and Alex Puvilland

March 28, 2017

The Goiânia Accident

This part of Spill Zone, in which Addison steals a radioactive component from an x-ray machine, is actually based a real-life event. It’s called the Goiânia Accident, and it took place in Brazil in 1987.

Our story begins when a private radiotherapy institute moves to a new building, leaving behind a teletherapy unit—a device for zapping tumors in cancer patients. The old premises was left to fall apart and, two years later, a pair thieves snuck into the institute and removed the machine, thinking it had some scrap value.

As they disassembled it, the thieves began to show symptoms of radiation poisoning—vomiting, dizziness. But they figured it was just the flu. They kept going and sold the unit to a scrapyard.

There, a strange glowing substance was discovered within the device. This brought great wonder, and friends and family of the scrapyard owner came to gaze upon the dust. People rubbed it on their skin. Kids played with it.

This story does not end well.

In the end four people died—the six-year-old daughter, the wife, and two employees of the scrapyard owner died. The thieves both had parts of an arm amputated. A total of 249 people were found to have been contaminated, some as tangential to the events as fellow travelers on the busses the victims took to the hospital and the doctors who treated them there. Contamination was also found on three buses, forty-two houses, fourteen cars, and five pigs.

This story of abandoned high technology cutting a swath through a community is a grim, secret inspiration for Spill Zone. Once you read about it, you won’t forget it, like a scientific Curse of the Mummy, a reminder that foraging among the ruins can unearth nightmares.

And maybe a reminder not to play with old x-ray machines and medical waste in general.

On a somewhat less grim topic, if you still want to put weird things on your skin after that story, you should pre-order Spill Zone now! Anyone doing so before May 1 will also receive a free set of Spill Zone tattoos! These tattoos are totally safe and will not result in amputations! While supplies last. (Supplies of tattoos, not amputations.)

SZ tattoos

In equally non-grim news, another book of mine came out yesterday. It’s called Horizon, and you can read about it here. (It’s kind of like Hatchet, but geekier. And like Lord of the Flies, but less depressing. And a bit like Lost, but the characters are lost instead of the writers.)

See you next Wednesday!

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