“I did not get enough chocolate to last from the Christmas party,” said Kari Sreifen, a radiation emergency doctor in Oslo.
Sreifen, who is also a member of the Doctors Against Nuclear Iran health campaign in Norway, said she was dancing to “Set Fire to the Rain” at the Christmas party at a Swedish inn on Dec. 15 when “the strobe lights and disco music started to play.”
Her husband was leading the floor show, which is often used for the Christmas festivities at hotels. The couple met each other when the table where they were dining, which Sreifen describes as small, was directly in front of the stage. “I was on the fringes of everything,” she said.
Norwegian police are now investigating allegations that 21 people exposed to elevated levels of radioactive iodine have developed acute radiation syndrome, which can cause dizziness, headache, loss of coordination and nausea, after eating meat contaminated with iodine-131, also known as tritium.
Sreifen began to feel strangely ill days after the party, which she said lasted for four hours. She drove to a local hospital after realizing she had been wearing clothes that had been contaminated by radiation. A radiologist immediately started giving her shots of radioactive iodine to boost her “safe” radiation level to normal.
“I came back to work at home feeling like hell,” Sreifen said.
Doctors Against Nuclear Iran was in the news last year after its early morning publication of what it said was secret medical research, released without the knowledge of the Norwegian health care agency, on 20 citizens who have developed very high levels of radiation exposure from nuclear attacks. That report claimed they could suffer temporary paralysis in the muscles of their hands and feet, perhaps lasting for up to a year. The report went viral on Facebook and led to medical experts saying it was alarming. It also led to questions from the insurance industry on whether a claim could be made on those patients.
Police are now examining whether the radiation people were exposed to was the main or secondary source, or both, of illness, according to Christian Benson, a spokesman for the Independent Police Investigations Directorate. “The cancer cases are serious, so we want to find out if it was just radiation causing the illness or it was something else as well,” he said.
Police have still not been able to find out where the level of exposure was at the Christmas party, said Øystein Børe, general manager of the Sunnivik Scandinavia hotel chain, which operates the Swissôtel hotel in Oslo where the party was held. “We have no clear answer,” he said. “We have been asked to send detailed information about all of the guests at that party by police — because no one will be charged.”
The exposure happened during a foggy, slow-moving day, when most people were outside enjoying the snow, he said. No one seemed to be feeling sick that day.
So far, officials at the National Crime Unit have found only one poisoning victim, a woman who was 47 years old. She ate bread spread with the sour cream from the party, according to police. She was given two shots of iodine in intensive care and another two shots by her doctor.
Dov Arieh, the head of cancer prevention at the National Cancer Institute in Oslo, said that such a high level of radiation should raise the profile of nuclear disease worldwide. The cases could, he said, “serve as a reminder that nuclear radiation causes cancer and other diseases of excessive exposure to radiation.”
But it is not clear that the victims’ illnesses were a direct result of the radiation. “It is too early to know if it was the low-dose radiation or the high-dose radiation,” Børe said.