The health problems reported by locals in south- eastern Peru following the strike of a meteorite are due to their fears rather than to any radioactivity of the meteorite, according to experts cited Wednesday in Peruvian media.
Some 150 peasants in the Puno region, in the high-altitude area near the border with Bolivia, have complained of dizziness, vomiting, diarrhea, stomach cramps, headaches and nausea since a meteorite struck in the area late Saturday.
Regional Health Director Jorge Lopez said that none of the cases are serious.
Last Mod: 20 Eylül 2007, 16:00
Nuclear physicist Modesto Montoya stressed that meteorites have 'a very low type of radioactivity, which can under no circumstances affect the population near the place where they fall.'
Scientists who travelled to the area to take measurements agreed with Montoya.
The numerous health problems reported could also be due to smoke, to the silica content in steam or to earth gases unleashed when the meteorite struck, Honorio Campoblanco, of the School of Geology at San Marcos University in Lima, told the daily El Comercio.
Police officers who look after the place where the meteorite struck have not reported health trouble and even admitted that they kept fragments of the meteorite as souvenirs.
Locals told Peruvian media that a rock with a trail of fire that sounded like an airplane crossed the sky in a scarcely populated area, and left a 30-metre wide and 5-metre deep crater in the ground where it struck.
Justina Limache told El Comercio that the peasants' fear increased because when they sought refuge in their homes they felt stones - produced as the meteorite crashed against the ground - falling over their houses. Limache said they thought they were going to be crushed to death.
A meteorite strike like that in Peru is extremely rare. Michael Khan, of the European Space Operations Centre (ESOC) in Darmstadt, Germany, told Deutsche Presse-Agentur DPA that such meteorites, with a diameter between 50 centimetres and 1 metre, only strike the earth every several decades. They affect humans very rarely, since 70 per cent of the earth is covered by water.