Answer to Question #10119 Submitted to "Ask the Experts"

Category: Radioactive Waste Disposal — Disposal

The following question was answered by an expert in the appropriate field:


Are there any special guidelines for cremation of patients who have had a prostate implant with 125I seeds?  Will radioactive gases be released from the crematorium?


Thank you for your question pertaining to cremation of a patient with prostate implant seeds. Brachytherapy is a common treatment of prostate cancer that involves the implantation of radioactive material (125I in this case). The half-life of 125I is 60 days, so after five half-lives (or 10 months) these seeds will have lost more than 95% of their initial radioactivity.

If a body treated with 125I is cremated while the seeds are still radioactive, this may result in the dispersion of the radioactive material within the cremation processing equipment and surrounding areas. Assuming that the seeds rupture during the cremation, most of the 125I will be released through the stack, only a small fraction of the radioactive material will be left in the cremated remains.

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has issued guidelines covering these circumstances, but no specific regulations currently exist. For patients who die while still containing radioactive materials, there are precautions in the NCRP (National Commission on Radiation Protection and Measurements) Report No. 161, "Management of Persons Contaminated with Radionuclides: Scientific and Technical Bases (2008)," page 244 and in NCRP Report 155, "Management of Radionuclide Therapy Patients (2006)," Section 6, for physicians and morgue personnel performing autopsies. There are also precautions for handling the deceased when no autopsies are performed and precautions for cremation, including "total millicurie amounts per year that can be handled safely by a single crematorium . . ." NCRP Report 155 deals with the cremation of patients with other radionuclides as well.

The NRC also provided a Morning Report for 27 July 2000 that describes results of a cremation of a patient with 125I seeds.

Additional information on the disposition of radioactive materials that may be useful can be found on the Ask the Experts Radioactive Waste Disposal page.

Eric Abelquist, CHP, PhD

Ask the Experts is posting answers using only SI (the International System of Units) in accordance with international practice. To convert these to traditional units we have prepared a conversion table. You can also view a diagram to help put the radiation information presented in this question and answer in perspective. Explanations of radiation terms can be found here.
Answer posted on 20 February 2012. The information posted on this web page is intended as general reference information only. Specific facts and circumstances may affect the applicability of concepts, materials, and information described herein. The information provided is not a substitute for professional advice and should not be relied upon in the absence of such professional advice. To the best of our knowledge, answers are correct at the time they are posted. Be advised that over time, requirements could change, new data could be made available, and Internet links could change, affecting the correctness of the answers. Answers are the professional opinions of the expert responding to each question; they do not necessarily represent the position of the Health Physics Society.