Archive for the ‘environment’ Category

Drastic decline in insect numbers – the bugocalypse

April 7, 2019
Why are insects dying in such numbers? By Greg Callaghan March 23, 2019  It’s been dubbed the bugocalypse – study after study rolling in from countries across the globe pointing to dramatic declines in insect populations. In Germany, an 82 per cent fall in midsummer invertebrate populations across 63 nature reserves between 1990 and 2017; in the Puerto Rico rainforest, a 75 per cent reduction in the volume of insects between 1976 and 2013; in the UK, a one-third fall in the honeybee population over the past 10 years. Across the US, monarch butterfly and ladybird beetle numbers are at record lows.
In alpine NSW, there’s been a collapse in bogong moth populations, resulting in starving pygmy possums, who feed on them. Most worrying, a research review of 73 existing surveys, released last month by the University of Sydney’s Institute of Agriculture, discovered that 40 per cent of insect species will likely be in catastrophic decline within a century.

So what’s going on? Just more scary headlines, or a real indicator of an eco-crisis ahead? A bit of both. While certain “beneficial” insect populations (butterflies, grasshoppers, mayflies, dragonflies, ground beetles, fireflies) appear to be in unprecedented retreat, others considered pests and a risk to human health (tsetse flies, ticks, mosquitoes) are on the offensive again.

We’re all sure a decline is happening,” explains Dr David Yeates, director of the Australian National Insect Collection in Canberra. “But to obtain a useful measure, we need to compare insect numbers today with those of 30, 40 or 50 years ago – but invertebrate counts weren’t being done then.”

So what’s causing the bug die-off? The top culprit is likely to be wilderness loss – many insects feed off native plants, and the relentless spread of single-crop farmland and insecticides has shrivelled their range, says Yeates. Another culprit: global warming, which favours some insects over others. Cut out insects and you lose all the creatures that feed on them, including frogs, lizards and birds. Of course, a large proportion of the food we eat comes from plants pollinated by insects, and they also clean up the environment, notes Yeates. “Waking up in a world without insects would be like waking up in a garbage dump.”


Radioactive boars thrive in Fukushima towns

April 7, 2019

Times 11th March 2019 The towns around the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant are among the
most perilously radioactive in the world, yet in their own strange way they have never been busier. The people who lived here fled in a rush after the meltdown of the nuclear reactors, but a new citizenry has established itself and is thriving in the unusual conditions. They squat in family groups in the wooden interiors of the traditional Japanese houses. They
thrive on the fruit on the trees and the water that flows around the old rice fields. They are hairy, tusked and weigh 200lb.

They are the radioactive wild boars of Fukushima. It is eight years today since the massive earthquake and tsunami that smashed into Fukushima Dai-ichi, and a good deal has changed since the terrible weeks that followed. The spewing
reactors have been largely contained, although it will be a lifetime before they are fully dismantled. The radiation in the towns has been reduced and in those marginal areas where the levels are lowest people have been permitted to return.

Even when gas and electricity are reconnected, their once thriving towns have few shops, schools or social services. But there is another obstacle to their return: the takeover of the evacuation zone by wild animals. In the absence of Man, nature has marched off the forested mountains and taken over his former home. Raccoons and rats, monkeys and
palm civets have all taken advantage of the empty houses to find food, shelter and a convenient place to breed. But none has better adapted, or done more damage, than the wild boar.

On this warming planet, mosquito-borne diseases are increasing

April 7, 2019

Climate Change Will Expose Half of World’s Population to Disease-Spreading Mosquitoes By 2050  MARCH 5, 2019 Scientists and public health officials have documented an increasing number of outbreaks of mosquito-borne illnesses across the globe in recent years, including yellow fever, dengue, chikungunya, and Zika. Now, an international team of researchers has found that by 2050, two key disease-spreading mosquitoes — Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus — will significantly expand their range, posing a threat to 49 percent of the world’s population.

“If no action is taken to reduce the current rate at which the climate is warming, pockets of habitat will open up across many urban areas with vast amounts of individuals susceptible to infection,” said Moritz Kraemer, an infectious disease scientist at Boston Children’s Hospital and the University of Oxford and a co-author of the new research, published in the journal Nature Microbiology,.

The researchers analyzed historical distribution data from more than 3,000 locations in Europe and the United States, dating back to the 1970s. They then modelled future distribution using projections for climate change, urbanization, and human migration and travel. Kraemer and his colleagues found that in the last five years, Aedes aegypti has spread northward in the U.S. at about 150 miles per year. In Europe, Aedes albopictus has spread at a rate of 93 miles per year.

The scientists also found that within the next 5 to 15 years, human travel and migration will be the largest factors driving the spread of mosquitoes. After that, however, climate change and accelerating urbanization will create new mosquito habitats. Aedes aegypti could reach as far north as Chicago and Shanghai by 2050. However, the species will likely decline in parts of the southern U.S. and Eastern Europe, which are expected to become more arid as global temperatures rise. Aedes albopictus, on the other hand, is forecast to spread widely throughout Europe over the next 30 years, as well as establish small populations in parts of the northern U.S. and the highland regions of South America and East Africa.

Climate change and the uncertain future for migratory birds

April 7, 2019

Study: Climate change is leading to unpredictable ecosystem disruption for migratory birds, Phys Org, March 5, 2019Cornell University   Using data on 77 North American migratory bird species from the eBird citizen-science program, scientists at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology say that, in as little as four decades, it may be very difficult to predict how climate change will affect migratory bird populations and the ecosystems they inhabit. Their conclusions are presented in a paper published in the journal Ecography.

Climates have natural variation and we’re moving rapidly into territory where the magnitude of climate change will consistently exceed this variation,” says lead author and Cornell Lab researcher Frank La Sorte. “There will be no historic precedent for these new climates, and migratory bird populations will increasingly encounter ‘novel’ climatic conditions. The most likely outcome will be a period of ecological disruption as migratory birds and other species try to respond or adapt to these new conditions.”

Cornell Lab scientists generated new climate models incorporating multiple sources of data. This produced a timeline indicating when and where migratory bird populations are likely to be significantly affected by novel climates during each phase of their annual life cycles. It’s not that far off:

  • Last 40 to 50 years of this century. During this period, migrants such as the Black-and-white Warbler, are likely to first experience novel climates on their tropical wintering grounds (regions south of Florida) and also during the late summer on their breeding grounds in the North American temperate zone (above the nation’s midsection).
  • First 50 years of the next century. This is when novel climates are likely to emerge for birds that winter in the subtropics—the southern half of the U.S.

The study authors conclude that by the middle of the next century migratory bird populations will experience novel climates during all phases of their annual life cycles……….


April 7, 2019

Futurity But Tilman Ruff, a Nobel Laureate and professor in the School of Population and Global Health at the University of Melbourne who studies the health and environmental consequences of nuclear explosions, says he has yet to see any documented evidence that there were cockroaches scuttling through the rubble.

“I’ve certainly seen photographs of injured people in Hiroshima that have lots of flies around, and you do imagine some insects would have survived,” Ruff says. “But they still would have been affected, even if they appear more resistant than humans.”


The TV series Mythbusters tested the cockroach survival theory in 2012 when they exposed cockroaches to radioactive material. The roaches survived longer than humans would have, but they all died at extreme levels of radiation.

Mark Elgar, a professor at the School of Biosciences, says Mythbusters tests are incomplete because they only looked at how many days the cockroaches lived after exposure. They didn’t look at the cockroaches’ ability to produce viable eggs, thus ensuring the continued survival of the species.

“There is some evidence that they seem quite resilient to gamma rays, although they are not necessarily the most resistant across insects.”

“You could argue,” Elgar adds, “that some ants, particularly those that dig nests deep into the ground, would be more likely to survive an apocalypse than cockroaches.”

Previous tests of insects subjected to radiation found that cockroaches, though six to 15 times more resistant than humans, would still fare worse than the humble fruit fly.

Elgar says the feral American and German species of cockroach—the ones you might recognize from your kitchen nooks and crannies—have given the rest of the species a bad rap.

“I think our view of cockroaches is informed by our frequent interaction with the American and German cockroaches, which have spread throughout the world,” Elgar says. “Their habit of basically acting as an unpaid house cleaner horrifies people.”

There are more than 4,000 species of cockroaches, however, including native Australian cockroaches marked by iridescent colors and patterns……….

For a while they’ll be able to eat dead bodies and other decaying material but, if everything else has died, eventually there won’t be any food. And they’re not going to make much of a living,” Elgar says.

“The reality is that very little, if anything, will survive a major nuclear catastrophe, so in the longer term, it doesn’t matter really whether you’re a cockroach or not.”…….

“The evidence from a disaster like Chernobyl is that every organism, from insects to soil bacteria and fungi to birds to mammals, would experience effects in proportion to the degree of contamination,” Ruff says. …….

uff says that focusing on a single species misses the complexity of the biological environment and how we relate to one another, as well as interactions between multiple stresses at the same time.

“There’s all sorts of factors we have to look at. There are environmental factors. There are chronic exposures, effects across generations, and food shortages, for example,” he says. “The magnitude of effects of a nuclear explosion is far greater than what you might see in carefully controlled experiments and laboratory conditions.”

So, everything points to the conclusion that no, cockroaches ultimately wouldn’t survive a nuclear apocalypse.

Plutonium and environmental and health effects

January 9, 2019
 TOXICOLOGICAL PROFILE FOR PLUTONIUM , Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry Division of Toxicology and Environmental Medicine/Applied Toxicology Branch,  Atlanta, Georgia“……….HOW CAN PLUTONIUM AFFECT MY HEALTH? Plutonium may remain in the lungs or move to the bones, liver, or other body organs. It generally stays in the body for decades and continues to expose the surrounding tissues to radiation. Lung, liver, and bone cancer You may develop cancer depending on how much plutonium is in your body and for how long it remains in your body. The types of cancers you would most likely develop are cancers of the lung, bones, and liver. These types of cancers have occurred in workers who were exposed to plutonium in air at much higher levels than is in the air that most people breathe. Affect ability to fight infections In laboratory animals, plutonium affected the animal’s ability to resist disease (immune system). More information on the health effects of plutonium is presented in Chapters 2 and 3………

  2.2 SUMMARY OF HEALTH EFFECTS Risks for adverse outcomes of plutonium exposures are strongly dependent on radiation doses received by specific tissues and organ systems. Most of the body burden of plutonium resides in the skeleton and liver, and following inhalation exposures, in the lung and lung-associated lymph nodes. As a result, these tissues receive relatively high radiation doses following exposures to plutonium. Radiation-induced toxicity to these tissues has been documented in human epidemiological studies and in animal models. The relatively high radiation doses received by bone, liver, and lung lend greater credibility to the epidemiological findings for these tissues than for outcomes in other tissues that receive much smaller radiation doses. All epidemiological studies that have reported adverse outcomes in these tissues have studied populations (i.e., workers in plutonium production and processing facilities) that experienced exposures and radiation doses that greatly exceed those experienced by the general public. Accordingly, risks for these outcomes in the general population are substantially lower than reported for these more highly exposed worker populations.
Death. Possible associations between exposure to plutonium and mortality have been examined in studies of workers at the U.S. plutonium production and/or processing facilities (Hanford, Los Alamos, Rocky Flats), as well as facilities in Russia (e.g., Mayak) and the United Kingdom (e.g., Sellafield). The Mayak studies provide relatively strong evidence for an association between cancer mortality (bone, liver, lung) and exposure to plutonium. Plutonium dose-response relationships for lung cancer mortality have been derived from studies of Mayak workers, who received much higher uptakes of plutonium compared to other epidemiological cohorts (i.e., mean body burdens 0.09–9.2 kBq, with much higher individual exposures [up to 470 kBq] in relatively large numbers of these workers). Excess relative risk (ERR) estimated in three studies (adjusted for smoking) were 3.9 per Gy (95% confidence interval [CI]: 2.6– 5.8) in males, and 19 per Gy (95% CI: 9.5–39) in females (attained age 60 years), 4.50 per Gy (95% CI: 3.15–6.10) in males, and 0.11 per Sv (95% CI: 0.08–0.17) or 0.21 per Sv (95% CI: 0.15–0.35), depending on the smoking-radiation interaction model that was assumed (these estimates per Sv correspond to 2.2 or 4.3 per Gy, respectively, assuming a radiation weighting factor of 20 for -radiation). The ERR per Gy in Mayak workers declined strongly with attained age. In a recent cohort mortality study of the Mayak workers, significant plutonium dose-response relationships (p<0.001) were found for deaths due to lung or liver cancer, and for deaths in which bone cancer was considered a contributing cause. At attained age of 60 years, ERRs for lung cancer were 7.1 per Gy (95% CI: 4.9–10) in males and 15 per Gy (95% CI: 7.6–29) in females. Averaged-attained age ERRs for liver cancer were 2.6 per Gy (95% CI: 0.7–6.9) for males and 29 per Gy (95% CI: 9.8–95) for females, and averaged-attained age ERRs for bone cancer were 0.76 per Gy (95% CI: <0–5.2) for males and 3.4 per Gy (95% CI: 0.4–20) for females. Elevated risks for bone cancer were observed only for workers with plutonium doses exceeding 10 Gy. For lung and bone cancer, the ERR declined with attained age, and for lung cancer, the ERR declined with age at first plutonium exposure.
Decreased survival was noted in beagle dogs exposed to plutonium aerosols (238PuO2, 239PuO2, or 239Pu(NO3)4) at levels resulting in initial lung burdens in the range of ≥1 kBq/kg body weight. Early deaths were attributed to radiation pneumonitis and decreased survival late in life was typically associated  with tumor development.
 Cancer. Possible associations between exposure to plutonium and cancer mortality and morbidity have been examined in studies of workers at the U.S. plutonium production and/or processing facilities (Hanford, Los Alamos, Rocky Flats), as well as facilities in Russia (Mayak) and the United Kingdom (e.g., Sellafield). Compared to studies of U.K. and U.S. facilities, the Mayak cohorts had relatively high uptakes of plutonium (i.e., mean body burdens as high as 9.2 kBq, with much higher individual uptakes [up to 470 kBq] in relatively large numbers of these workers). Collectively, the Mayak studies provide evidence for an association between cancer mortality (lung, liver, bone) and uptake of plutonium. Studies of U.K. and U.S. facilities have examined cohorts of workers who had substantially lower estimated plutonium uptakes and corresponding internal radiation doses than the Mayak cohorts (e.g., Sellafield: ≤1 kBq in 97% of the assessed workers; Los Alamos: mean body burden 0.970 kBq, range 0.05– 3.18 kBq). Although a significantly higher incidence of cancer mortality in certain groups of plutonium workers has been found in some studies, higher cancer incidence and/or risks for tissues that received the highest plutonium radiation doses (i.e., lung, liver, bone) have not been found, making causal connections of these outcomes to plutonium exposure more uncertain. The Sellafield study is by far the strongest of these studies and did not find associations between plutonium exposure and cancers to tissues receiving the highest radiation doses from plutonium.
  Plutonium dose-response relationships for lung cancer mortality and morbidity have been corroborated in four Mayak studies. Estimated excess relative risk in these four studies (adjusted for smoking) were as follows: (1) 3.9 per Gy (95% CI: 2.6–5.8) in males and 19 per Gy (95% CI: 9.5–39) in females; (2) 7.1 per Gy (95% CI: 4.9–10) in males and 15 per Gy (95% CI: 7.6–29) in females at attained age of 60 years; (3) 4.50 per Gy (95% CI: 3.15–6.10) in males; and (4) 0.11 per Sv (95% CI: 0.08–0.17) or 0.21 per Sv (95% CI: 0.15–0.35), depending on the smoking-radiation interaction model that was assumed (these estimates per Sv correspond to 2.2 or 4.3 per Gy, respectively, assuming a radiation weighting factor of 20 for “-radiation).
  The risks of mortality and morbidity from bone and liver cancers have also been studied in Mayak workers. Increasing estimated plutonium body burden was associated with increasing liver cancer mortality, with higher risk in females compared to males. Relative risk for liver cancer for a cohort of males and females was estimated to be 17 (95% CI: 8.0–26) in association with plutonium uptakes >7.4 kBq; however, when stratified by gender, the relative risk estimates for females was 66 (95% CI: 16–45) and higher than for males, 9.2 (95% CI: 3.3–23). Risk of bone cancer mortality in this same cohort (n=11,000) was estimated to be 7.9 (95% CI: 1.6–32) in association with plutonium uptakes >7.4 kBq (males and females combined). Risks of leukemia mortality, in the same cohort, were not associated with internal plutonium exposure. In a case control study of Mayak workers, the odds ratio for liver cancer was 11.3 (95% CI: 3.6–35.2) for subjects who received doses >2.0–5.0 Gy (relative to 0– 2.0 Gy) and the odds ratios for hemangiosarcomas were 41.7 (95% CI: 4.6–333) for the dose group >2.0– 5.0 Gy, and 62.5 (95% CI: 7.4–500) for the dose group >5.0–16.9 Gy; doses were estimated based on periodic urine sampling. A study reported averaged-attained age ERRs for liver cancer of 2.6 per Gy (95% CI: 0.7–6.9) for males and 29 per Gy (95% CI: 9.8–95) for females, and averaged-attained age ERRs for bone cancer of 0.76 per Gy (95% CI: <0–5.2) for males and 3.4 per Gy (95% CI: 0.4–20) for females. Elevated risks for bone cancer were observed only for workers with plutonium doses exceeding 10 Gy. For lung and bone cancer, the ERR declined with attained age, and for lung cancer, the ERR declined with age at first plutonium exposure. …….
Studies in Animals. Radiation pneumonitis has been observed following plutonium (primarily insoluble) aerosol exposure of dogs, nonhuman primates (monkeys and baboons), and rodents. As discussed in Section, radiation pneumonitis was identified as primary, major contributing, or incidental cause of death in some dogs and nonhuman primates that inhaled 238PuO2, 239PuO2, or 239Pu(NO3)4 aerosols.
Muggenburg et al. (2008) studied the effect of plutonium ILB and radiation dose on radiation pneumonitis in beagles as part of a plutonium lifespan composite study. The relationship between pneumonitis induction and the cause of death was reported to be a function of the plutonium ILB, the resulting cumulative radiation dose, and the particle size to some extent. Increased ILB and plutonium dose rate were associated with the fraction of animals with radiation pneumonitis as primary, major contributing, or incidental cause of death. A trend was observed for the induction of radiation pneumonitis at lower ILBs in the 0.75 and 1.5 µm AMAD groups than in the 3 µm AMAD group. At radiation doses sufficient to produce radiation pneumonitis, the resulting inflammation was a chronic symptom due to long-term retention of 239PuO2 in the lung.
As a result, 239PuO2-induced radiation pneumonitis was always associated with pulmonary fibrosis. The radiation pneumonitis/pulmonary fibrosis progressively impaired lung function, including alveolar-capillary gas exchange, resulting in increases in respiratory rate, minute volume, arterial CO2 pressure, and lung stiffness, along with decreases in tidal volume and arterial O2 pressure. Symptoms in order of decreasing frequency were tachypnea, increased breath sounds, body weight loss, anorexia, dyspnea, cyanosis, bradycardia, and discharge from the nose, eyes, or mouth. Increasing radiation dose and dose rate corresponded to progressively shorter times to onset of symptoms and increased severity of effects (Muggenburg et al. 2008). …….
Exposure of Dogs to 238PuO2. In the ITRI 238PuO2 dog studies, the first symptom of radiation pneumonitis (tachypnea) was observed at approximately 600 days after initial exposure (Muggenburg et al. 1996). …… Radiation pneumonitis was the primary cause of death in eight dogs with initial lung burdens of 8.3–45 kBq/kg (Muggenburg et al. 1996).
 Similar observations were reported in the PNL studies on 238PuO2, with chronic radiation pneumonitis observed in dogs with initial lung burdens ≥0.28 kBq/kg (Park et al. 1997). Exposure of Dogs to 239PuO2. Chronic radiation pneumonitis also was observed in the ITRI and PNL dogs exposed to 239PuO2 aerosols   ……  Radiation pneumonitis was observed in dogs dying from 0.3 to 11.7 years after inhaling 239PuO2, with the time to death inversely related to initial lung burden (Hahn et al. 1999; Muggenburg et al. 1999, 2008). The lowest initial lung burden causing fatal radiation pneumonitis was 1.0 kBq/kg (Muggenburg et al. 1999, 2008). The time to death from radiation pneumonitis was not different in ITRI dogs administered a single exposure (initial lung burden of 3.9 kBq/kg) or repeated exposures (7–10 semiannual exposures for a mean total lung burden of 5.3 kBq/kg) (Diel et al. 1992). Death due to radiation pneumonitis was observed in 239PuO2-exposed PNL dogs at mean initial lung burdens ≥1 kBq/kg (DOE 1988a; Weller et al. 1995b) …..
Exposure of Other Laboratory Animal Species. Baboons ….. Higher initial lung burdens resulted in earlier death from radiation pneumonitis accompanied by pulmonary edema. Radiation pneumonitis and pulmonary fibrosis were also reported in Rhesus monkeys…..
  Cardiovascular Effects. Epidemiological Studies in Humans. Possible associations between exposure to plutonium and cardiovascular disease have been examined in studies of workers at production and/or processing facilities in the United Kingdom (Sellafield) (McGeoghegan et al. 2003; Omar et al. 1999). These studies are summarized in Table 3-2 and study outcomes for mortality from cardiovascular disease are described in Section Omar et al. (1999) compared mortality rates between plutonium workers and other radiation workers within a cohort of Sellafield workers and found that the mortality rate ratios were significantly elevated for cerebrovascular disease (1.27, p<0.05) in a cohort of Sellafield workers. The cumulative internal uptakes of plutonium in the cohort were estimated to range from 0 to 12 kBq, with approximately 75% of the cohort having cumulative uptakes ≤250 Bq. McGeoghegan et al. (2003) compared mortality rates between plutonium workers and other radiation workers within a cohort of Sellafield workers and found that morality rate ratios for plutonium workers were significantly elevated for deaths from circulatory disease (2.18, p<0.05) and ischemic heart disease (4.46, p<0.01). ….
Cancer.  Epidemiological Studies in Humans. Possible associations between exposure to plutonium and cancer mortality and morbidity have been examined in studies of workers at the U.S. plutonium production and/or processing facilities (Hanford, Los Alamos, Rocky Flats), as well as facilities in Russia (Mayak) and the United Kingdom (e.g., Sellafield). The most recent findings from these studies are summarized in Table 3-2. Compared to studies of U.K. and U.S. facilities, the Mayak cohorts had relatively high PLUTONIUM 55 3. HEALTH EFFECTS exposures to plutonium (i.e., mean body burdens ranging from 0.09 to 9.2 kBq, with individual exposures as high as 470 kBq (Krahenbuhl et al. 2005). Collectively, the Mayak studies provide evidence for an association between cancer mortality and exposure to plutonium. Plutonium dose-response relationships for lung cancer mortality have been corroborated in three Mayak studies (Gilbert et al. 2004; Jacob et al. 2005; Kreisheimer et al. 2003). ……
Collectively, the Mayak studies provide evidence for increased risk of cancer mortality (bone, liver, lung) in association with increased internal plutonium-derived radiation dose and/or body burden, with approximately 4-fold higher risks in females compared to males. Four studies estimated lung cancer mortality risk among Mayak workers and yielded similar estimates of excess relative risk per Gy of internal lung dose. Gilbert et al. (2004) estimated the excess lung cancer mortality risk (per Gy attained at age 60 years) for essentially the entire cohort of Mayak workers (n=21,790) to be approximately 4.7 per Gy (95% CI: 3.3–6.7) in males, and 19 per Gy (95% CI: 9.5–39) in females. Adjustment for smoking, based on risk estimates in subgroups for which smoking data were available, decreased these estimates only slightly: males, 3.9 per Gy (95% CI: 2.6–5.8); and females, 19 (95% CI: 7.7–51). Cancer mortality risk was linearly related to plutonium radiation dose. ……
Risks of mortality and morbidity from bone and liver cancers have also been studied in Mayak workers (Gilbert et al. 2000; Koshurnikova et al. 2000; Shilnikova et al. 2003; Sokolnikov et al. 2008; Tokarskaya et al. 2006). Increasing estimated plutonium body burden was associated with increasing cancer mortality, with higher risk in females compared to males. Gilbert et al. (2000) examined liver cancer mortality in a cohort of Mayak workers (n=11,000). …….
U.K. Atomic Energy Authority and Atomic Weapons Establishment Workers. ………..The mortality rate ratio was significantly elevated for breast cancer (7.66, p<0.01) and cerebrovascular disease (1.27, p<0.05). McGeoghegan et al. (2003) examined cancer mortality in a cohort of female Sellafield workers (n=6,376), from which a subset (n=837) of women who had been monitored for plutonium exposure was identified as plutonium workers. This cohort overlapped considerably with that studied by Omar et al. 1999). Effective dose equivalents to the lung from plutonium were estimated to have ranged up to 178 mSv (mean: 3.45 mSv, 5th–95th percentile range: 0.36–8.89 mSv). Comparisons of mortality rates between plutonium workers and other radiation workers yielded significantly elevated mortality rate ratios for all deaths (2.20, p<0.01), all cancers (3.30, p<0.01), breast cancer (3.77, p<0.05), circulatory disease (2.18, p<0.05), and ischemic heart disease (4.46, p<0.01).
……p. 66   3.3 GENOTOXICITY Abundant information is available regarding the genotoxicity of ionizing radiation (refer to the Toxicological Profile for Ionizing Radiation for a detailed discussion of the genotoxic effects of various forms of ionizing radiation). The genotoxicity of alpha radiation from plutonium sources has been investigated in various groups of plutonium workers, as well as in vivo animal studies and a variety of in vitro test systems. Tables 3-4 and 3-5 present the results of in vivo and in vitro genotoxicity studies, respectively. Although epidemiological studies do not provide conclusive evidence that plutonium produces genetic damage in humans, results of some studies provide suggestive evidence of dose-related increases in chromosomal aberrations in plutonium workers with measurable internalized plutonium. For example, Livingston et al. (2006) examined relationships between external radiation dose, internal radiation dose, and frequencies of chromosomal aberrations and micronuclei in peripheral blood lymphocytes of a group of 30 retired plutonium workers with dosimetrically-estimated internal and external radiation doses >0.5 Sv, another 17 workers with predominantly external radiation doses <0.1 Sv, and 21 control subjects with no history of occupational radiation exposure. Frequency of chromosomal aberrations was positively correlated with the bone marrow dose (alpha radiation from internalized plutonium; 168 mSv  median dose to the bone marrow), but not with the external radiation dose. Frequency of micronuclei did not differ significantly among the three study groups.
Significantly increased frequencies of symmetrical and asymmetrical chromosomal aberrations were reported among workers at the Sellafield (United Kingdom) plutonium facility with internalized plutonium in excess of 20% of the maximum permissible body burden (Tawn et al. 1985). Frequencies of symmetrical aberrations were significantly higher at retesting 10 years later, although no significant external radiation exposure had occurred during the 10-year interim (Whitehouse et al. 1998). This finding is consistent with the hypothesis that internally-deposited plutonium irradiates hemopoietic precursor cells (Whitehouse et al. 1998).
  Internal plutonium dose-related increased frequencies in chromosomal aberrations have also been reported in peripheral blood lymphocytes of plutonium workers with estimated plutonium body burdens as high as 15.5 kBq from exposure at the Mayak plutonium facilities in Russia (Hande et al. 2003, 2005; Mitchell et al. 2004; Okladnikova et al. 2005). The increased frequencies of chromosomal aberrations in the Mayak workers persisted many years following the cessation of exposure (Hande et al. 2003, 2005; Mitchell et al. 2004).
 Significantly increased frequencies of chromosomal aberrations were observed among Rocky Flats (Colorado) plutonium workers with internal plutonium burdens >740 Bq (Brandom et al. 1990; IAEA 1979). Conversely, among Manhattan Project plutonium workers followed for up to 32 years, no apparent correlation was found between the frequency of chromosomal aberrations and plutonium body burdens in the range of 0.185–15.4 kBq (Hempelmann et al. 1973; Voelz et al. 1979).
Open wounds represent a significant route through which plutonium workers might be exposed to plutonium alpha particles. Chromosomal aberrations were observed in lymphocytes among eight plutonium workers in the United Kingdom occupationally exposed to plutonium with the primary routes of exposure through wounds, punctures, or abrasions (estimated plutonium body burdens from 0.78 to 1.5 kBq). In exposed individuals, the number of dicentric aberrations averaged 5 per 500 cells, while the natural population background frequency of this aberration is 1 per 4,000 cells (Schofield 1980; Schofield et al. 1974).
Results of in vivo genotoxicity studies in laboratory animals consistently reveal alpha radiation-induced dose-related increases in the frequency of chromosomal aberrations following internalization of   plutonium. Chromosomal aberrations were observed in monkeys and hamsters following inhalation exposure to plutonium. Increases in chromosomal aberrations in blood lymphocytes were seen in immature Rhesus monkeys exposed to 239PuO2 at concentrations resulting in initial lung burdens of 1.9– 19 kBq 239Pu/kg body weight (LaBauve et al. 1980) and Cynomolgus monkeys exposed to 239Pu(NO3)4 at a concentration resulting in a projected initial lung burden of 40 kBq (Brooks et al. 1992), but not at lower levels. ……
  Consistently positive genotoxicity results have been reported in various test systems exposed to the alpha radiation from plutonium compounds in vitro (see Table 3-5). Chromosomal aberrations were reported in human peripheral blood lymphocytes and lymphoblasts (DOE 1980h; Purrott et al. 1980)  ……     Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry Division of Toxicology and Environmental Medicine/Applied Toxicology Branch 1600 Clifton Road NE Mailstop F-62 Atlanta, Georgia 30333

Radioactivity induced mutations in the animals of Chernobyl

December 4, 2018

What We Know About the Chernobyl Animal Mutations   by

The 1986 Chernobyl accident resulted in one of the highest unintentional releases of radioactivity in history. The graphite moderator of reactor 4 was exposed to air and ignited, shooting plumes of radioactive fallout across what is now Belarus, Ukraine, Russia, and Europe. While few people live near Chernobyl now, animals living in the vicinity of the accident allow us to study the effects of radiation and gauge recovery from the disaster.

Most domestic animals have moved away from the accident, and those deformed farm animals that were born did not reproduce. After the first few years following the accident, scientists focused on studies of wild animals and pets that had been left behind, in order to learn about Chernobyl’s impact.

Although the Chernobyl accident can’t be compared to effects from a nuclear bombbecause the isotopes released by the reactor differ from those produced by a nuclear weapon, both accidents and bombs cause mutations and cancer.

It’s crucial to study the effects of the disaster to help people understand the serious and long-lasting consequences of nuclear releases. Moreover, understanding the effects of Chernobyl may help humanity react to other nuclear power plant accidents.

The Relationship Between Radioisotopes and Mutations 

You may wonder how, exactly, radioisotopes (a radioactive isotope) and mutations are connected. The energy from radiation can damage or break DNA molecules. If the damage is severe enough, cells can’t replicate and the organism dies. Sometimes DNA can’t be repaired, producing a mutation. Mutated DNA may result in tumors and affect an animal’s ability to reproduce. If a mutation occurs in gametes, it can result in a nonviable embryo or one with birth defects.

Additionally, some radioisotopes are both toxic and radioactive. The chemical effects of the isotopes also impact the health and reproduction of affected species.

The types of isotopes around Chernobyl change over time as elements undergo radioactive decay. Cesium-137 and iodine-131 are isotopes that accumulate in the food chain and produce most of the radiation exposure to people and animals in the affected zone.

Examples of Domestic Genetic Deformities

Ranchers noticed an increase in genetic abnormalities in farm animals immediately following the Chernobyl accident. In 1989 and 1990, the number of deformities spiked again, possibly as a result of radiation released from the sarcophagus intended to isolate the nuclear core. In 1990, around 400 deformed animals were born. Most deformities were so severe the animals only lived a few hours.

Examples of defects included facial malformations, extra appendages, abnormal coloring, and reduced size. Domestic animal mutations were most common in cattle and pigs. Also, cows exposed to fallout and fed radioactive feed produced radioactive milk.

The health and reproduction of animals near Chernobyl were diminished for at least the first six months following the accident. Since that time, plants and animals have rebounded and largely reclaimed the region. Scientists collect information about the animals by sampling radioactive dung and soil and watching animals using camera traps.

The Chernobyl exclusion zone is a mostly-off-limits area covering over 1,600 square miles around the accident. The exclusion zone is a sort of radioactive wildlife refuge. The animals are radioactive because they eat radioactive food, so they may produce fewer young and bear mutated progeny. Even so, some populations have grown. Ironically, the damaging effects of radiation inside the zone may be less than the threat posed by humans outside of it. Examples of animals seen within the zone include Przewalksi’s horses, wolves, badgers, swans, moose, elk, turtles, deer, foxes, beavers, boars, bison, mink, hares, otters, lynx, eagles, rodents, storks, bats, and owls.

Not all animals fare well in the exclusion zone. Invertebrate populations (including bees, butterflies, spiders, grasshoppers, and dragonflies) in particular have diminished. This is likely because the animals lay eggs in the top layer of soil, which contains high levels of radioactivity.

Radionuclides in water have settled into the sediment in lakes. Aquatic organisms are contaminated and face ongoing genetic instability. Affected species include frogs, fish, crustaceans, and insect larvae.

While birds abound in the exclusion zone, they are examples of animals that still face problems from radiation exposure. A study of barn swallows from 1991 to 2006 indicated birds in the exclusion zone displayed more abnormalities than birds from a control sample, including deformed beaks, albinistic feathers, bent tail feathers, and deformed air sacs. Birds in the exclusion zone had less reproductive success. Chernobyl birds (and also mammals) often had smaller brains, malformed sperm, and cataracts.

The Famous Puppies of Chernobyl 

Not all of the animals living around Chernobyl are entirely wild. There are around 900 stray dogs, mostly descended from those left behind when people evacuated the area. Veterinarians, radiation experts, and volunteers from a group called The Dogs of Chernobyl capture the dogs, vaccinate them against diseases, and tag them. In addition to tags, some dogs are fitted with radiation detector collars. The dogs offer a way to map radiation across the exclusion zone and study the ongoing effects of the accident. While scientists generally can’t get a close look at individual wild animals in the exclusion zone, they can monitor the dogs closely. The dogs are, of course, radioactive. Visitors to the area are advised to avoid petting the pooches to minimize radiation exposure.


  • Galván, Ismael; Bonisoli-Alquati, Andrea; Jenkinson, Shanna; Ghanem, Ghanem; Wakamatsu, Kazumasa; Mousseau, Timothy A.; Møller, Anders P. (2014-12-01). “Chronic exposure to low-dose radiation at Chernobyl favours adaptation to oxidative stress in birds”. Functional Ecology. 28 (6): 1387–1403.
  • Moeller, A. P.; Mousseau, T. A. (2009). “Reduced abundance of insects and spiders linked to radiation at Chernobyl 20 years after the accident”. Biology Letters. 5 (3): 356–9.
  • Møller, Anders Pape; Bonisoli-Alquati, Andea; Rudolfsen, Geir; Mousseau, Timothy A. (2011). Brembs, Björn, ed. “Chernobyl Birds Have Smaller Brains”. PLoS ONE. 6 (2): e16862.
  • Poiarkov, V.A.; Nazarov, A.N.; Kaletnik, N.N. (1995). “Post-Chernobyl radiomonitoring of Ukrainian forest ecosystems”. Journal of Environmental Radioactivity. 26 (3): 259–271. 
  • Smith, J.T. (23 February 2008). “Is Chernobyl radiation really causing negative individual and population-level effects on barn swallows?”. Biology Letters. The Royal Society Publishing. 4 (1): 63–64. 
  • Wood, Mike; Beresford, Nick (2016). “The wildlife of Chernobyl: 30 years without man”. The Biologist. London,UK: Royal Society of Biology. 63 (2): 16–19. 

Australia’s nuclear testing before the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne should be a red flag for Fukushima in 2020

November 3, 2018

 Part time tutor in Medical Education, University of Dundee

The scheduling of Tokyo 2020 Olympic events at Fukushima is being seen as a public relations exercise to dampen fears over continuing radioactivity from the reactor explosion that followed the massive earthquake six years ago.

It brings to mind the British atomic bomb tests in Australia that continued until a month before the opening of the 1956 Olympic Games in Melbourne – despite the known dangers of fallout travelling from the testing site at Maralinga to cities in the east. And it reminds us of the collusion between scientists and politicians – British and Australian – to cover up the flawed decision-making that led to continued testing until the eve of the Games.

Australia’s prime minister Robert Menzies agreed to atomic testing in December 1949. Ten months earlier, Melbourne had secured the 1956 Olympics even though the equestrian events would have to be held in Stockholm because of Australia’s strict horse quarantine regimes.

The equestrians were well out of it. Large areas of grazing land – and therefore the food supplies of major cities such as Melbourne – were covered with a light layer of radiation fallout from the six atomic bombs detonated by Britain during the six months prior to the November 1956 opening of the Games. Four of these were conducted in the eight weeks running up to the big event, 1,000 miles due west of Melbourne at Maralinga.

Bombs and games

In the 25 years I have been researching the British atomic tests in Australia, I have found only two mentions of the proximity of the Games to the atomic tests. Not even the Royal Commission into the tests in 1985 addressed the known hazards of radioactive fallout for the athletes and spectators or those who lived in the wide corridor of the radioactive plumes travelling east.

At the time, the approaching Olympics were referred to only once in the Melbourne press in relation to the atomic tests, in August 1956. It is known that D-notices from the government “requesting” editors to refrain from publishing information about certain defence and security matters were issued.

The official history of the tests by British nuclear historian Lorna Arnold, published by the UK government in 1987 and no longer in print, reports tests director William Penney signalling concern only once, in late September 1956:

Am studying arrangements firings but not easy. Have Olympic Games in mind but still believe weather will not continue bad.

This official history doesn’t comment on the implications. And nowhere in the 1985 Royal Commission report is there any reference to the opening of the Olympics, just one month and a day after the fourth test took place 1,000 miles away.

The 1984 report of the Expert Committee on the review of Data on Atmospheric Fallout Arising from British Nuclear Tests in Australia found that the methodology used to estimate the numbers of people who might have been harmed by this fallout at fewer than 10 was inappropriate. And it concluded that if the dose calculations were confined to the communities in the path of the fallout and not merged with the total Australian population “such an exercise would generate results several orders of magnitude higher than those based on conventional philosophy”. There was no mention of the Olympic Games.

Neither Prime Minister Menzies nor his cabinet ever referred publicly to what had been known from the outset – that the British atomic tests in Australia would almost coincide with the Melbourne Olympics. The tests and the Games were planned simultaneously through the first half of the 1950s.

In May 1955, 18 months before the Olympics were due to start, Howard Beale, the Australian minister for supply, announced the building of “the Los Alamos of the British Commonwealth” (a nuclear test site in New Mexico) at Maralinga, promising that “tests would only take place in meteorological conditions which would carry radioactive clouds harmlessly away into the desert”.

An Atomic Weapons Tests Safety Committee was formed by the Australians but was closely controlled by physicist Professor Ernest Titterton, the only Englishman on the panel. The 1985 Royal Commission stated explicitly that the AWTSC was complicit in the firing of atomic detonations in weather conditions that they knew could carry radioactive fallout a thousand miles from Maralinga to eastern cities such as Melbourne.

Hazards of radioactivity

Professor Titterton, who had recently been appointed to a chair in nuclear physics at the Australian National University after working on the Manhattan Project at Los Alamos, and at Aldermaston in England, explained why the atomic devices were being tested in Australia:

Because of the hazards from the radioactivity which follows atomic weapons explosions, the tests are best carried out in isolated regions – usually a desert area … Most of the radioactivity produced in the explosion is carried up in the mushroom cloud and drifts downward under atmospheric airstreams. But particular material in this cloud slowly settles to the ground and may render an area dangerously radioactive out to distances ranging between 50 and several hundred miles … It would therefore be hazardous to explode even the smallest weapons in the UK, and it was natural for the mother country to seek test sites elsewhere in the Commonwealth.

The AWTSC published two scientific papers in 1957 and 1958 which flat out denied that any dangerous levels of radioactivity reached the eastern states. But their measurements relied on a very sparse scattering of sticky paper monitors – rolls of gummed film set out to catch particles of fallout – even though these could be washed off by rain.

Despite their clear denials in these papers, meteorological records show that prior to the Games there was rain in Melbourne which could have deposited radioactivity on the ground.

The AWTSC papers included maps purporting to show the plumes of radioactive fallout travelling north and west from Maralinga in the South Australian desert. The Royal Commission published expanded maps (see page 292) based on the AWTSC’s own data and found the fallout pattern to be much wider and more complex. The Australian scientist Hedley Marston’s study of radioactivity uptake in animals showed a far more significant covering of fallout on a wide swathe of Australian grazing land than indicated by the sticky paper samples of the AWTSC.

The 1985 Royal Commission report into British Nuclear Tests in Australia discussed many of these issues, but never in relation to the proximity and timing of the 1956 Olympic Games. Sixty years later, are we seeing the same denial of known hazards six years after the reactor explosion at Fukushima?


Authorities deceive the public on radiation from Fukushima Daiichi

October 9, 2018
Dr Yamashita is only one among a host of politicians, bureaucrats, experts and advertising and media consultants who support the post-3.11 safety mantra of anshin (secure 安心), anzen (safe 安全), fukkō (recovery 復 興). Through public meetings, media channels, education manuals and workshops,54 local citizens in Fukushima Prefecture were inundated with optimistic and reassuring messages.
At the same time, to reduce ‘radiophobia’ and anxiety, while focusing on the psychological impact from stress, health risks from radiation exposures have been trivialised and/or normalised for the general public.
This approach is backed up by international nuclear-related agencies. As stipulated on 28 May 1959 in the ‘WHA12-40’ agreement, the WHO is mandated to report all data on health effects from radiation exposures to the IAEA, which controls publication.
Nevertheless, it is no longer possible to ignore a significant body of research, including 20 years of scientific studies compiled in Belarus and Ukraine that show serious depopulation, ongoing illnesses and state decline.

Informal Labour, Local Citizens and the Tokyo Electric Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Crisis: Responses to Neoliberal Disaster Management Adam Broinowski {extensive footnotes and references on original]  September 2018, “……… (Official Medicine: The (Il)logic of Radiation Dosimetry On what basis have these policies on radiation from Fukushima Daiichi been made? Instead of containing contamination, the authorities have mounted a concerted campaign to convince the public that it is safe to live with radiation in areas that should be considered uninhabitable and unusable according to internationally accepted standards. To do so, they have concealed from public knowledge the material conditions of radiation contamination so as to facilitate the return of the evacuee population to ‘normalcy’, or life as it was before 3.11. This position has been further supported by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which stated annual doses of up to 20 mSv/y are safe for the total population including women and children.43 The World Health Organisation (WHO) and United Nations Scientific Commission on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR) also asserted that there were no ‘immediate’ radiation related illnesses or deaths (genpatsu kanren shi 原発 関連死) and declared the major health impact to be psychological.

While the central and prefectural governments have repeatedly reassured the public since the beginning of the disaster that there is no immediate health risk, in May 2011 access to official statistics for cancer-related illnesses (including leukaemia) in Fukushima and southern Miyagi prefectures was shut down. On 6 December 2013, the Special Secrets Protection Law (Tokutei Himitsu Hogo Hō 特定秘密保護法) aimed at restricting government employees and experts from giving journalists access to information deemed sensitive to national security was passed (effective December 2014). Passed at the same time was the Cancer Registration Law (Gan Tōroku Hō 癌登録法), which made it illegal to share medical data or information on radiation-related issues including evaluation of medical data obtained through screenings, and denied public access to certain medical records, with violations punishable with a 2 million yen fine or 5–10 years’ imprisonment. In January 2014, the IAEA, UNSCEAR and Fukushima Prefecture and Fukushima Medical University (FMU) signed a confidentiality agreement to control medical data on radiation. All medical personnel (hospitals) must submit data (mortality, morbidity, general illnesses from radiation exposures) to a central repository run by the FMU and IAEA.44 It is likely this data has been collected in the large Fukushima Centre for Environmental Creation, which opened in Minami-Sōma in late 2015 to communicate ‘accurate information on radiation to the public and dispel anxiety’. This official position contrasts with the results of the first round of the Fukushima Health Management Survey (October 2011 – April 2015) of 370,000 young people (under 18 at the time of the disaster) in Fukushima prefecture since 3.11, as mandated in the Children and Disaster Victims Support Act (June 2012).45 The survey report admitted that paediatric thyroid cancers were ‘several tens of times larger’ (suitei sareru yūbyōsū ni kurabete sūjūbai no ōdā de ōi 推定される有病数に比べて数十倍の オーダーで多い) than the amount estimated.46 By 30 September 2015, as part of the second-round screening (April 2014–March 2016) to be conducted once every two years until the age of 20 and once every five years after 20, there were 15 additional confirmed thyroid cancers coming to a total of 152 malignant or suspected paediatric thyroid cancer cases with 115 surgically confirmed and 37 awaiting surgical confirmation. Almost all have been papillary thyroid cancer with only three as poorly differentiated thyroid cancer (these are no less dangerous). By June 2016, this had increased to 173 confirmed (131) or suspected (42) paediatric thyroid cancer cases.47

The National Cancer Research Center also estimated an increase of childhood thyroid cancer by 61 times, from the 2010 national average of 1–3 per million to 1 in 3,000 children. (more…)

Malformed insects found around Swiss nuclear power plants

October 9, 2018

Abnormal bugs found around Swiss nuclear power plants  A new study, believed to be the first to investigate health effects on insects near operating nuclear power plants, has found a highly significant twofold increase in morphological malformations on true bugs in the 5 km vicinity of three Swiss nuclear power stations.

The study — Morphological Abnormalities in True Bugs (Heteroptera) near Swiss Nuclear Power Stations — was conducted by Alfred Körblein, a physicist and authority on the health impacts of low-dose radiation, and Cornelia Hesse-Honegger, who has studied and painted insects affected by the Chernobyl nuclear accident. (You can read more about Hesse-Honegger’s work here.) Earlier studies on wildlife around Chernobyl and Fukushima found large and highly statistically significant incidences of radiation-induced mutation rates.  Due to its ecological design, however, the Swiss study cannot answer the question whether the effect is caused by radiation from nuclear power plants. However, given the results, the researchers are calling for future studies to confirm their findings. Read the study.