Strontium-90 is the chief immediate health hazard in fallout. Because of its similarities to calcium, it is easily absorbed by plants and animals. In mammals, it will tend to concentrate in milk, presenting a particular danger to infants. Taken in large amounts, strontium-90 can cause leukemia or bone cancer. In rare instances, it can be responsible for the acquisition of superpowers.
The Chinese open-air atomic bomb tests of the early 1960s caused a rash of superheroes. Spider-Man is perhaps the best known, but such media darlings as the Fantastic Four, the Flash, the Atom and the entire first generation of X-Men were also generated by these tests. The Incredible Hulk is often lumped in with this crew, but he was the result of an overdose of gamma radiation at an American research facility.
Because the life of a superhero is glamorous, challenging, potentially lucrative, and allows one to set one's own hours, it is especially appealing to the young. This is why strontium-sniffing has become such a great problem in our schools.
Kids! Remember the odds. When some latex-clad creep with a cape and a mask offers you a packet of white powder to snort, Just Say No. "Super-huffing" can lead to serious illness and even death. Even in those rare cases where superpowers are acquired, it's usually a bad idea. Don't forget what happened to Wonder Woman.
Because the government cares about your health, possession of more than a grain of strontium-90 is punishable by life imprisonment without parole.
© 2002 by Michael Swanwick and SCIFI.COM.