Page last updated at 18:35 GMT, Wednesday, 24 September 2008 19:35 UK

Coroner to probe radiation link

Arthur Reader and Hugh Wagner
Arthur Reader and Hugh Wagner worked in the Rutherford Building

A coroner is to examine the death of a doctor who worked in a university building at the centre of an inquiry into residual radiation.

Arthur Reader, who died of pancreatic cancer, worked in the University of Manchester's Rutherford Building.

A report has already questioned whether the building could have contributed to the deaths of two former lecturers.

Pioneering nuclear physicist Ernest Rutherford carried out experiments in the building in 1908.

Rutherford, a Nobel Prize-winning chemist, carried out experiments using radioactive materials such as radon and polonium.

University bosses have commissioned an independent investigation of the building - but do not believe it poses a health risk.

It is important to stress that we do not believe there to be any risk to current occupants of the Rutherford Building
University spokesman

Dr Reader, 69, worked in the building until 1993.

Manchester Coroner Nigel Meadows is to hold an inquest to establish if any substances Dr Reader may have been exposed to contributed to his cancer.

He said: "I'm going to open an inquest and 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."

The decision follows a report published a few weeks ago entitled "Possible health risks due to ionising radiation in the Rutherford Building (formerly Coupland Building 1) at The University of Manchester".

It was produced by three doctors who worked in the building when it was home to the psychology department.

Vanessa Santos-Leitao
Vanessa Santos-Leitao died from a brain tumour earlier this year

In it they question whether the deaths of two of their colleagues - Dr Hugh Wagner in 2007 and Dr John Clark in 1992 - from cancer may have been linked to radiation in the building.

Although they found no direct evidence of a link, they said their purpose of writing the report was to ensure that the possible health risks would be "properly investigated".

It has subsequently been revealed that a fourth person, computer assistant Vanessa Santos-Leitao, worked in the building for two years and died in February of a brain tumour.

In a statement, the university said: "The university will await the findings of the independent review before deciding what further action may be needed.

"However, we believe the evidence presented to date does not support a connection between the deaths of former staff and possible exposure to radiation sources.

"It is important to stress that we do not believe there to be any risk to current occupants of the Rutherford Building."

A survey as part of a refurbishment in 2006 found some minor contamination below levels reportable to the Health and Safety Executive, which has been removed by specialists, the university said.

Uni radiation report considered
09 Sep 08 |  Manchester

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