In the movie Braveheart, Sir William Wallace gives a stirring speech at the beginning of the battle of Stirling Bridge that motivates the Scots to fight to victory. Perhaps they were so overcome with patriotic enthusiasm that they failed to notice the white van in the background (pictured above in the lower, left corner) — some 600 years before the invention of the motor vehicle!
Herbie Goes Bananas, the 1980 film about a Volkswagen Beetle that is seemingly alive, is widely regarded as the worst of the Herbie movies. Some might even call it a disaster. Few could have guessed, however, that it would play a part in one of the worst nuclear disasters in history.
When the private radiotherapy clinic Instituto Goiano de Radioterapia (IGR) at Goiânia, Brazil moved its location in 1985, it abandoned its old location. Left behind was some outdated equipment and furnishings. Litigation ensued over the contents of the property, and the court ordered private security to keep watch over the site, pending the outcome of the lawsuits.
The security guard who was to protect the site on September 13, 1987 failed to show up for work. The reason for his absence? He took his family to a special screening of Herbie Goes Bananas. There is no record of whether he and his family enjoyed their special time together, but history does record that this little outing left the IGR site unguarded for the day.
That happened to be the day two self-proclaimed scavengers, Wagner Mota Pereira and Roberto do Santos Alves, entered the property and rummaged around, looking for items of value to sell for scrap. They left with a wheelbarrow full of assorted odds and ends, including the core of a radiotherapy device, a small capsule filled with cesium chloride, a highly-radioactive compound made from Cesium 137.
The thieves returned to Alves’ home, where they began sorting through the day’s find. By evening both of them began vomiting. By the next day Pereira, who had already added dizziness and diarrhea to his list of symptoms, also noticed a peculiar burn mark on his hand that was the exact size and shape of the capsule. Despite these troubling indications, Pereira waited until the next day to seek medical attention. The local health clinic, having no reason to believe they should be looking for signs of radiation sickness, concluded Pereira was suffering from a mild form of food poisoning and advised him to get some rest. The rest did not prevent the partial amputation of several fingers a few days later.
Alves was making the most of the time his partner was at the doctor’s office. During this time he succeeded in wrestling the cesium capsule from its protective rotating head before taking a break for the rest of the day. The next day he set to work again, and succeeded in puncturing the capsule with a screwdriver. Upon seeing a strange blue light emitting from the screwdriver hole, he used the screwdriver to scoop some of the glowing substance out of the capsule. It stands to reason that particle physics was not one of Alves’ stronger suites, so he did not recognize the glow as Cherenkov radiation. Instead, he thought the substance must be some sort of special gunpowder, so he tried to light it. Despite his best efforts, the powder would not ignite. The prolonged exposure to the radioactive material did result in such severe ulceration of his right forearm that it had to be amputated.
Alves sold the goods to a nearby scrapyard. The scrapyard’s owner, Devair Alves Ferreira, noticed the blue glow from the punctured capsule and brought it into his house. For the next three days he invited everyone he could find to come in and witness the mysterious artifact. He started exploring the possibility of making a ring for his wife out of the glowing metal.
On September 21 one of Ferreira’s friends succeeded in liberating several rice-sized grains of the glowing material from the capsule. He and Ferreira began distributing these grains to friends and family as good luck charms. The charms did not bring good luck to his wife, Gabriella Ferreira, who began showing signs of illness that same day.
Ferreira’s brother, Ivo, got his hands on the capsule and scraped out additional material. He took it home and spread it out on the floor before allowing his six-year-old daughter to sit there while eating her lunch. The daughter was intrigued by the glowing substance and rubbed it on her body like makeup. She even applied some of the dust to her sandwich as she was eating.
It was Gabriella Ferreira who first connected the dots between the appearance of the strange item and the onset of illnesses. Retrieving the items from a scrapyard that had recently purchased them from Ferreira’s scrapyard, Gabriella placed them in a plastic bag and delivered them to a hospital on September 28. The physician on duty, Dr. Paulo Roberto Monteiro, suspecting the items to be radioactive, notified the authorities.
By this point more than two weeks had passed since the theft of the materials from the IGR site. Six distinct locations were contaminated. Topsoil was removed from the contaminated areas and several homes were demolished.
Far more tragic was the impact on the people. 130,000 people flooded the hospitals for testing. 112,000 were examined for radioactive contamination. One thousand of these were identified as having received a dose of radiation greater than a year’s worth of background radiation. Of these, 249 were found to have significant levels of radioactive material on their bodies. 129 of these had internal radioactive contamination. 20 exhibited signs of radiation sickness and required treatment.
And then there were the deaths:
Admilson Alves de Souza, a junkyard employee who worked on extracting salvageable material from the capsule, died on October 18 at the age of 18 from internal bleeding and heart and lung damage.
Israel Baptista dos Santos, a junkyard employee who worked on separating the lead from the rest of the radioactive core, died on October 27 at the age of 22 from respiratory and lymphatic failure.
Leide das Neves Ferreira, the 6-year-old daughter of Ivo Ferreira, who had played with and even eaten the radioactive material, died on October 23. She was buried in a special fiberglass coffin lined with lead to prevent further radioactive contamination of the area.
Gabriella Maria Ferreira, the wife of junkyard owner Devair Ferreira, was the one who first connected the illnesses to the glowing substance. Her illness got progressively worse, and she died on October 23 at the age of of 37 — the same day as Leide das Neves Ferreira.
Ironically, the person who received possibly the largest exposure of radiation, junkyard owner Devair Ferreira, survived radiation-related illnesses. His death in 1994 was from cirrhosis of the liver brought on by alcoholism.
Perhaps all of this could have been avoided if only a movie other than Herbie Goes Bananas had been playing that fateful day.
Marvel Comics’ mega-strong, most-in-need-of-anger-management character the Hulk is best known for being green. Originally he appeared as grey, just as his creator Stan Lee intended. When a printer error turned him green, Lee decided to go with the flow.
The Hulk has returned to grey occasionally over the more than half century since he first appeared. He has also sported different colors from time to time. In the end, however, he is iconically green, and we can just hope he doesn’t get very, very angry about that printer’s mistake.
Haven’t heard of the Khwarezmian Empire? You can thank the unbelievably bad decisions of its leader, Shad Ala Ad-Din Muhammad II (1169-1220).
The Khwarezmian Empire stretched from the Sea of Oman to the Oxus River and encompassed what sociologists refer to as “Greater Iran,” incorporating parts of modern-day China, Iraq, Pakistan, and Afghanistan.
Genghis Khan came across Muhammad II’s territory and sent a delegation of Mongol and Muslim merchants to explore diplomatic and commercial possibilities. Muhammad, nervous over the real military skill of the Mongols and the exaggerated accounts of their brutality, arrested the merchants and seized their goods.
Khan, who was way more diplomatic than people generally gave him credit for, sent three envoys to Muhammad to offer him an easy out: blame the arrest of the merchants on a local governor, chop off his head, and move forward to establish diplomatic and commercial relations.
The paranoid Khwarezmian ruler decided, instead, to humiliate the delegation by shaving their heads and beheading their interpreter.
With this decision, Muhammad earned the enmity Genghis Khan, who rarely did anything half-way. He sent 200,000 elite Mongol troops to Khwarezmia, led by Genghis’ three greatest generals, with orders to kill everything, even pets. They captured Governor Inalchuq and executed him by pouring molten silver into his eyes and mouth.
Muhammad II ran from hiding place to hiding place before finally dying of pleurisy on a remote island of the Caspian Sea, leaving what was once a kingdom of 4 million subjects reduced to a heap of corpses and bones.
A Chinese factory worker spent more than $63,000 (500,000 yuan) to purchase 99 iPhone 6 devices. This is 17 times the average annual salary in his southern province of Guagzhou. He arranged the phones in the shape of a heart and then proposed to his girlfriend.