Over on Science Based Medicine Steve Novella highlights a bit of radioactive quackery that has popped up. His source is an article from Thailand. There officials have discovered and pulled the plug on a scam that involved selling people an ‘energy card’ that you buy to supposedly … “improve the immune system, strengthen the heart and energise the user’s metabolism. They also claimed that the card could purify water if it is briefly soaked in it.”.
Why pull the plug?
Well yes, it is a scam of course and that is reason enough, but in this case something else emerged that was of a far more immediate concern. Tests by the Thai authorities revealed that the cards contained radioactive metallic elements of uranium and thorium.
It gets worse.
Steve breaks down the possible radiation exposure here …
If someone is exposed to 40 microsieverts per hour for an entire year, that results in 350 millisieverts (mSv) total exposure. I think that’s where the “350” comes from. The recommended limit of radiation exposure is 100 mSv per 5 years. So that is 17.5 times the recommended maximum exposure. Another way to look at this is that you would reach your 5-year radiation exposure limit in 104 days of continuous exposure. 100 mSv is also the lowest annual dose that has been clearly shown to increase cancer risk. This means that long term exposure to these cards (from keeping it in your wallet, for example) could lead to unsafe levels of radiation exposure.
For further comparison, normal background radiation results in about 3.65 mSv of exposure per year, so the cards result in about 100 times greater than background exposure. A chest X-ray results in 0.1 mSv exposure. A full body CT scan – 10 mSv.
In a word … Yikes!
It gets even worse.
Remember that the distributers also promoted the claim that … “the card can purify water if it is briefly soaked in it“. In other words, soak the card in water that you then drink and you could in all probability be consuming bits of uranium and thorium that flaked off of it. That is then no longer an issue of you simply being exposed to a rather high dose of radiation from the card in your wallet, but also receiving a continuous dose from the uranium and thorium you have consumed.
Double … “yikes!”.
What happens now?
The Thai report advises that …
anyone who wants to discard these cards can contact the Thailand Institute of Nuclear Technology for assistance.
Ampai Sukbampoeng, manager of the institute’s Irradiation Centre, said yesterday that if the cards are disposed of improperly, they could easily contaminate the environment, as well as crops.
He suggested that local officials should collect these “energy cards” from villagers and send them to his agency for proper disposal.
Meanwhile, on 21st June Criminal fraud charges have been filed against the “perpetrators”.
There are also a few questions
Where did these come from?
While the text on the card (see above) says “Germany Technology”, in English, another Thai article identifies the source as …
Surin, a former police officer, claims to have begun selling the cards after he acquired them from La Genius.
La Genius was a Malaysian MLM company that has since collapsed. The cards themselves are reportedly of Indonesian origin.
Why not just plastic?
It would have been far easier to make fake bits a plastic that contained no radioactive material at all. Steve muses over this and suggests .. “Perhaps the creators of the cards thought that the radioactivity would be a selling point, because the cards are giving off actual “energy”.
Where the heck did they get radioactive material to use?
For this I simply have no idea.
Individuals who bought this card risked radiation exposure, but the sellers would have been carrying a bundle of these around to sell, hence would have been getting a rather larger dose.
Radioactive Snake Oil is not new
When radiation was first discovered, it was initially deemed a new sciency sounding miracle. Unfortunately, the associated risks had not yet penetrated into cultural awareness.
Here are a few examples of what happened …