Ernest Rutherford’s now infamous lab at the University of Manchester is being linked to the sixth death to occur from cancer in the last 30 years – allegedly caused by radiation poisoning.
Psychology lecturer Professor Tom Whiston, 70, is the third occupant of the Rutherford Building to have died from pancreatic cancer in the last three years. Colleagues Dr Hugh Wagner, 62, and Dr Arthur Reader, 69, also died from pancreatic cancer in 2007 and 2008 respectively, while two other staff members have died from brain tumours and another from cancer in 1984.
A report on the suspicious deaths by Doctors Neil Todd, Don O’ Boyle and John Churcher published in August 2008 contained nearly 300 pages of analysis and correspondence between various academics and health protection agencies. Yet it yielded no significant conclusion except for its last line: “The existence of … uncertainties is in part due to the absence of a proactive attitude by the University towards certain possible risks to its staff, and a casual approach to record-keeping in the past.”
Professor David Coggon was brought in by the University of Manchester to conduct an independent investigation into the deaths in 2008. His final report is expected later this year. The scientist was keen to point out that the public must understand the risk of radiation.
“I’ve had a lot of people in a lot of anxiety because of misunderstandings about the science.
“Pancreatic cancer is not the sort of tumour that one would expect from ionising radiation,” he said, in contradiction to theories that Wagner, Reader and now Whiston may have died from exposure in the building.