Archive for the ‘health’ Category

Sickness and deaths: the toxic result of the St Louis radioactive aste dump

July 24, 2017

The reports don’t acknowledge these stories, these illnesses, those who are dying or dead. Most residents of St. Louis—including and especially the residents of predominantly African-American neighborhoods—don’t even know the contamination is there. …….

the half-life of Thorium 232: fourteen billion years, a half-life so long that by the time this element is safe for human exposure

a contradiction I can’t resolve: that the massive crime here began with a belief in a kind of care, a belief that protection comes only in the form of wars and bombs, and that its ultimate expression is a technology that can destroy in a single instant any threat to our safety with perfect precision and efficiency. But hundreds of thousands lost their lives to those bombs in Japan, and the fallout from building them has claimed at least as many lives right here at home.

The Fallout, In St. Louis, America’s nuclear history creeps into the present, leaching into streams and bodies. Guernica, By Lacy M. Johnson, 10 July 2017 “………Months ago, when a high-school friend reached out to me asking that I give my attention to this story, she told me that a company tasked decades ago with disposing of nuclear waste for the federal government had instead dumped thousands of barrels of the waste somewhere in North St. Louis County. The barrels were left exposed to the elements for decades, and the waste had leaked into the ground and into the water of a nearby creek……

When the federal government filed suit to acquire the property under eminent domain, officials refused to disclose the exact nature of the waste “for security reasons.” They assured the local government that the waste they’d be storing there wasn’t dangerous. They shook hands and signed papers. They looked people squarely in the eye.

During the next twenty years, truckload by truckload, the green patchwork of farm fields by the airfield turned into a foreign world. Mountains of raffinate rose up across from row after row of rusty black drums, stacked two or three high.

……..The reports tell only so much, only certain parts of certain versions of the story. The rest I have to piece together using articles in the local newspaper, phone calls with these residents, oral histories collected by others, newsletters from various companies celebrating one anniversary or another…..

In my pile of reports there is a series of letters from Cotter to the Atomic Energy Commission, in which Cotter tries to convince the government to take these wastes back. Commercial disposal would cost upwards of two million dollars (about twelve million dollars today). They couldn’t afford it. They knew that the AEC was using a quarry at the recently decommissioned second Mallinckrodt facility at Weldon Spring, roughly twenty miles southwest of the airport, as a dump for nuclear waste. They asked the AEC if they could use it, asked for guidance, and for help.

That help never came……

A lengthy investigation discovered that from August to October 1973, a private construction firm drove truckloads of the leached barium sulfate—along with roughly forty thousand tons of soil removed from the top eighteen inches of the Latty Avenue site—to West Lake Landfill, all around the clock, sometimes in the middle of the night. To the landfill operator it looked like dirt, so he waved the trucks in and charged them nothing, using it as landfill cover over the municipal refuse…..

the reports express the detection of this contamination in charts, as numbers and statistics. They’ve found contamination at the airport, in the drainage ditches leading away from the airport, and all along the creek—along the trucking routes, in ballfields and in parks and gardens and backyards, in driveways, in people’s basements and under their kitchen cabinets. Even now, as I write this, they are still trying to figure out just how far it has spread.

The reports measure the health risk of exposure to this contamination as an equation, with a threshold of acceptable risk. But what the reports don’t say is that the contamination has already done so much damage that cannot be measured or undone. The Mallinckrodt uranium workers are some of the most contaminated in the history of the atomic age. So contaminated, in fact, that in 2009 all former Mallinckrodt uranium workers were added as a “special exposure cohort” to the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act. The act provides compensation and lifetime medical benefits to employees who became ill with any of twenty-two named cancers as a result of working in the nuclear-weapons industry. Because of this special cohort status, if a former Mallinckrodt worker develops any of these named illnesses, exposure to the uranium is assumed. But the people who live near the creek didn’t work for Mallinckrodt. They aren’t entitled to compensation or to medical benefits.

A woman named Mary Oscko, for instance, has lived her whole life in North St. Louis County, most of it near that small creek. Now she is dying of stage-four lung cancer, though she has never smoked a day in her life. Shari Riley, a nurse who lived near the creek, died recently of appendix cancer—rare in the general population, but several dozen cases have been reported among those who live or lived near the airport or along the creek. My friend—the one who contacted me about this story—never lived in St. Louis, but her mother grew up two houses away from that creek. My friend suspects that her mother’s exposure to the contamination as a child changed her DNA in ways she passed on to her children, which would explain why my friend was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer a few years ago, at the age of thirty-five. Could it also explain why my friend’s mother once gave birth to a set of conjoined twins? Conjoined twins are an anomaly in the general population, but these make the fourth set born to women who grew up near that creek. And those are just the ones we know about.

The reports don’t acknowledge these stories, these illnesses, those who are dying or dead. Most residents of St. Louis—including and especially the residents of predominantly African-American neighborhoods—don’t even know the contamination is there. …….

“My librarian,” Kay Drey tells me—has filed the EPA’s Record of Decision for the West Lake Landfill, and then on the drawer where I might find studies that contradict the EPA’s assessment that the radioactive waste in the landfill doesn’t pose a threat to residents—the radiological surveys of the site conducted in the 1970s and 1980s by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the Department of Energy, as well as more current studies by independent researchers. She explains that the radioactive waste buried in West Lake Landfill covers about twenty acres in two locations in one or many layers, estimated at two to fifteen feet thick, some of it mixed in with municipal refuse and some of it sitting right at the surface. It is in the trees surrounding the landfill and the vacuum bags in nearby homes. This waste contains not only uranium, but also thorium and radium, all long-lived, highly radio-toxic elements. And because Mallinckrodt removed most of the naturally occurring uranium from this ore, the Cotter Corporation, in effect, created an enriched thorium deposit when they dumped the residues at West Lake Landfill. “In fact,” Kay muses, “West Lake Landfill might now be the richest deposit of thorium in the world.”

Thorium and uranium in particular are among the radioactive primordial nuclides, radioactive elements that have existed in their current form since before Earth was formed, since before the formation of the solar system even, and will remain radioactive and toxic to life long after humans are gone. We’re sitting back in Kay’s dining room when she pulls out a tiny booklet labeled “Nuclear Wallet Cards.” What its intended purpose is, I don’t know, but Kay flips to the back to show me the half-life of Thorium 232: fourteen billion years, a half-life so long that by the time this element is safe for human exposure, the Appalachian Mountains will have eroded away, every ocean on Earth’s surface will have evaporated, Antarctica will be free of ice, and all the rings of Saturn will have decayed. Earth’s rotation will have slowed so much that days will have become twenty-five hours long, photosynthesis will have ceased, and multicellular life will have become a physical impossibility.

“You know, tritium is my favorite,” Kay tells me before I leave. It’s produced as a side effect of operating nuclear reactors and released into the air, or leaks into the waterways; it contaminates the water supply and condenses in our food. One official who worked at the nuclear reactor Kay had tried to prevent once told her that tritium was no big deal. “It only destroys DNA molecules.” A few years ago they found tritium in the groundwater in Callaway County. “There is no way to remove it,” she says…..

….the Weldon Spring site. After it was decommissioned, the plant—a second one run by Mallinckrodt—was found to be so contaminated that the Department of Energy eventually entombed the whole site in layers upon layers of clay and soil, gravel, engineered filters and limestone rocks, creating a mountain covering forty-five acres, containing approximately 1.5 million cubic yards of hazardous waste. With its own educational center located near the base, the containment dome has become a kind of memorial for a tragedy that hasn’t finished happening. The top of the dome is the highest point in the county.

“Oh, you don’t want to go there anyway,” Kay says, waving the idea away with her slender hand. “It’s leaking.”……..

a contradiction I can’t resolve: that the massive crime here began with a belief in a kind of care, a belief that protection comes only in the form of wars and bombs, and that its ultimate expression is a technology that can destroy in a single instant any threat to our safety with perfect precision and efficiency. But hundreds of thousands lost their lives to those bombs in Japan, and the fallout from building them has claimed at least as many lives right here at home.

There is no one to arrest for this, to send to jail, to fine or execute or drag to his humiliation in the city square. Even if Karen and Dawn win their fight and convince the government to remove every gram of radioactive waste in the landfill and the creek and the airport and the backyards and gardens here, people will still be sick. Thousands of them. Chronic exposure to radiation has changed their DNA, and they’ll likely pass those changes on to their children, and to their children’s children, and on and on through every generation. In this regard, no one is immune……..

The EPA Region 7 offices are located in a sprawling modern government building in a suburb of Kansas City. The small conference room just to the side of the main entrance is filled with a surprising number of people……

During our too-short conversation I learn that the EPA has over 1,300 sites in the Superfund program, and Region 7 alone has ninety-eight sites on the National Priorities List. Each of these communities is demanding that their toxic sites be scrubbed clean. ………

Radioactive contamination: the secret scandal of Muslumovo in the southern Russian Urals, downstream from the Mayak plutonium plant

July 24, 2017

In conferences debating the number of victims of the Chernobyl accident, officials who draw paychecks from nuclear lobbies make similar arguments about alcohol abuse and “radiophobia”—stress-related illnesses caused by fear of radiation.

Strange illnesses in one of the most contaminated towns in the world challenge what we think we know about the dangers of radioactivity.Slate, By Kate Brown, April 18, 2013, “……What do we know about communities living on contaminated terrain? Two years after the meltdown of three reactors in Fukushima, Japan, the World Health Organization forecasts that there will be no significant rise in cancers among people living nearby. These projections are based on guesses from models calculated from prior studies, mostly of Japanese people who survived Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Yet when Japanese scientists and inspected the bodies of 38,000 children living in the Fukushima Prefecture, they found 36 percent had abnormal growths on their thyroids a year after the accident.

We have grown accustomed to this scenario—media attention to nuclear accidents followed by a long, slow quarrel among scientists about whether the spilled fission products will damage human bodies or not. It will take decades to learn the public health impact of the 2011 meltdown. By then, most of the public will have lost interest. But there are other ways to get at this question of what it means to live on earth sullied with decaying radioactive isotopes.

No one has lived longer on contaminated terrain than people in the village of Muslumovo in the southern Russian Urals located downstream from the Maiak plutonium plant, built in 1948 to produce Soviet bomb cores. Unlike the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. game, daily life in Muslumovo is terrifyingly banal: long waits at medical clinics, worries over the price of prescriptions, reams of paperwork related to compensation and disability claims, sick kids, unemployment, poverty, and chronic illness.

I showed up in Muslumovo on a Saturday morning in August 2009. Muslumovo is a big village, sprawled inside a crooked elbow of the Techa River, which is slow, sluggish, and considered to be the world’s most radioactive. The village center has a train station, a few apartment buildings, and a corner store. Marat Akhmadeev met me at the station in his Soviet vintage car, dusty and dented. We jolted up and down on the choppy seas of the unpaved streets. Muslumovo is a strange village—half there and half gone. Many houses are abandoned, some partly dismantled, exposing weathered wallpaper and overturned appliances.

The Techa became a flowing radioactive reservoir in 1949 when engineers at the plutonium plant ran out of underground storage containers for high-level radioactive waste. A Dixie cup of this waste could kill everyone in a large ballroom. Compelled by the arms race, the plant director ordered it dumped in the Techa River. The men running the plant didn’t tell anyone about this decision. The 28,000 Russian, Bashkir, and Tatar farmers living on the river—drinking, cooking, and bathing with river water—had no idea. In the 1950s and ’60s special forces resettled most of the 16 contaminated villages on the Techa, but a few villages were too large and expensive to move, so they stayed. Muslumovo is one.

There’s no work in Muslumovo. A person either commutes 60 miles to the industrial city of Cheliabinsk or farms a patch of land of the long-defunct Muslumovo collective farm. Marat farms, living off the land—a term that takes on new meaning in Muslumovo, where in 2008, an American team found domestic interiors registering radiation at 40 times above the background level. After we pulled up at Marat’s house, his teenage son silently trailed us. Noticing a twitch in the boy’s step, I turned to look at him. His mouth drooped and fingers twisted, as he mouthed a stuttered greeting. Marat explained, “This is Kareem,nash luchevik,” meaning “our radiant one,” said in an off-hand manner, as if every family has a luchevik……

There is a legal contest going on over the health of the people of Muslumovo: whether they are sick and, if so, ill from the radioactive isotopes dumped in the river or from poor diets and alcohol abuse. Medical evidence has been contradictory. In 1959, Soviet scientist A. N. Marei wrote a dissertation in which he argued that the Techa villagers were in poor health because of their poor diets. In 1960, in contrast, local Soviet officials linked the river-dwellers’ illnesses to the contaminated river. This debate between nature (radiation) and nurture (lifestyle) has been going on a long time…….

Over the years, FIB-4 doctors had diagnosed 935 people on the Techa River with chronic radiation syndrome. But as thousands of people in Ukraine worried about their exposures from the Chernobyl blast, Soviet medical officials backpedaled on the FIB-4 doctors’ original findings. In 1991, Angelina Gus’kova, the chief official voice in evaluating Chernobyl health problems, argued that in fact there were only 66 cases of chronic radiation syndrome among the Techa River people. The rest, she claimed, suffered from more prosaic diseases such as brucellosis, tuberculosis, hepatitis, and rheumatism caused by poor diets and sanitation. As American researchers supported by the Department of Energy have taken over as lead researchers of studies in Muslumovo, the diagnosis of chronic radiation syndrome has largely dropped from the radar. Meanwhile, Russian officials, worried about lawsuits, charged that many people in Muslumovo had dreamed up illnesses in order to sue for compensation. These people, they said, had no chronic radiation disease but were chronic welfare cases looking for handouts.

The trope of ignorant, genetically deficient, and drunken villagers is a common one in Russia. In the southern Urals in the past few decades, the cliché has been useful in glossing over the human suffering connected to uncontrolled dumping into the Techa River. In conferences debating the number of victims of the Chernobyl accident, officials who draw paychecks from nuclear lobbies make similar arguments about alcohol abuse and “radiophobia”—stress-related illnesses caused by fear of radiation. It would be a mistake, however, to allow the longstanding politicization of medical studies to overtake this very important, yet overlooked, place for our understanding of radiation’s effects on human bodies. Reprinted from Plutopia: Nuclear Families, Atomic Cities, and the Great Soviet and American Plutonium Disasters by Kate Brown with permission from Oxford University Press USA.

Increased cancer risk for Japanese workers exposed to plutonium

July 24, 2017

Increase in Cancer Risk for Japanese Workers Accidentally Exposed to Plutonium, ED LYMAN, SENIOR SCIENTIST | JUNE 9, 2017, 

 According to news reports, five workers were accidentally exposed to high levels of radiation at the Oarai nuclear research and development center in Tokai-mura, Japan on June 6th. The Japan Atomic Energy Agency, the operator of the facility, reported that five workers inhaled plutonium and americium that was released from a storage container that the workers had opened. The radioactive materials were contained in two plastic bags, but they had apparently ripped.

We wish to express our sympathy for the victims of this accident.

This incident is a reminder of the extremely hazardous nature of these materials, especially when they are inhaled, and illustrates why they require such stringent procedures when they are stored and processed.

According to the earliest reports, it was estimated that one worker had inhaled 22,000 becquerels (Bq) of plutonium-239, and 220 Bq of americium-241. (One becquerel of a radioactive substance undergoes one radioactive decay per second.) The others inhaled between 2,200 and 14,000 Bq of plutonium-239 and quantities of americium-241 similar to that of the first worker.

More recent reports have stated that the amount of plutonium inhaled by the most highly exposed worker is now estimated to be 360,000 Bq, and that the 22,000 Bq measurement in the lungs was made 10 hours after the event occurred. Apparently, the plutonium that remains in the body decreases rapidly during the first hours after exposure, as a fraction of the quantity initially inhaled is expelled through respiration. But there are large uncertainties.

The mass equivalent of 360,000 Bq of Pu-239 is about 150 micrograms. It is commonly heard that plutonium is so radiotoxic that inhaling only one microgram will cause cancer with essentially one hundred percent certainty. This is not far off the mark for certain isotopes of plutonium, like Pu-238, but Pu-239 decays more slowly, so it is less toxic per gram.  The actual level of harm also depends on a number of other factors. Estimating the health impacts of these exposures in the absence of more information is tricky, because those impacts depend on the exact composition of the radioactive materials, their chemical forms, and the sizes of the particles that were inhaled. Smaller particles become more deeply lodged in the lungs and are harder to clear by coughing. And more soluble compounds will dissolve more readily in the bloodstream and be transported from the lungs to other organs, resulting in exposure of more of the body to radiation. However, it is possible to make a rough estimate.

Using Department of Energy data, the inhalation of 360,000 Bq of Pu-239 would result in a whole-body radiation dose to an average adult over a 50-year period between 580 rem and nearly 4300 rem, depending on the solubility of the compounds inhaled. The material was most likely an oxide, which is relatively insoluble, corresponding to the lower bound of the estimate. But without further information on the material form, the best estimate would be around 1800 rem.

What is the health impact of such a dose? For isotopes such as plutonium-239 or americium-241, which emit relatively large, heavy charged particles known as alpha particles, there is a high likelihood that a dose of around 1000 rem will cause a fatal cancer. This is well below the radiation dose that the most highly exposed worker will receive over a 50-year period. This shows how costly a mistake can be when working with plutonium.

The workers are receiving chelation therapy to try to remove some plutonium from their bloodstream. However, the effectiveness of this therapy is limited at best, especially for insoluble forms, like oxides, that tend to be retained in the lungs.

The workers were exposed when they opened up an old storage can that held materials related to production of fuel from fast reactors. The plutonium facilities at Tokai-mura have been used to produce plutonium-uranium mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel for experimental test reactors, including the Joyo fast reactor, as well as the now-shutdown Monju fast reactor. Americium-241 was present as the result of the decay of the isotope plutonium-241.

I had the opportunity to tour some of these facilities about twenty years ago. MOX fuel fabrication at these facilities was primarily done in gloveboxes through manual means, and we were able to stand next to gloveboxes containing MOX pellets. The gloveboxes represented the only barrier between us and the plutonium they contained. In light of the incident this week, that is a sobering memory.

Independent World Health Organisation challenges WHO

May 18, 2017
In reality, IAEA is a commercial lobbying org promoting use of the atom, yet at the same time, it dictates WHO procedures, standards, and published articles on the matter of nuclear radiation, prompting a very pregnant question: Is this a conflict of interest for WHO? Answer: Yes, it is!

Not only is there a serious conflict of interest, Katz claims WHO fails, time and again, to meet its mandate to the public, as for example:

1) WHO remained absent from Chernobyl for five years even though the WHO mandate requires it to be present the “day after a catastrophe” to evaluate and provide assistance. But, WHO was MIA for 5 years.

2) WHO does not issue independent reports on radiation issues. All nuclear-related reports are written by IAEA but published “in the name of the WHO.”

3) Following Chernobyl, there were two international conferences held to analyze the implications of the catastrophe; one held in Geneva in 1995 and the second in Kiev in 2001. The “Proceedings of the Conferences” were never published by WHO.

Hidden Radiation Secrets of the World Health Organization, CounterPunch  MAY 2, 2017 Imagine the following hypothetical: The World Health Organization (“WHO”) is deeply involved in a high level cover up of the human impact and dangers of ionizing radiation, intentionally hiding the facts from the public, a chilling storyline!

After all, the world community depends upon WHO as an independent org t0 forewarn the general public of health dangers and to help in times of crises, not hide pivotal health facts from public eye.

As it happens, that nightmarish hypothetical comes to life in an interview with Alison Katz, who claims: “We are absolutely convinced that if the consequences of nuclear radiation were known to the public, the debate about nuclear power would end tomorrow. In fact, if the public knew, it would probably be excluded immediately as an energy option.”

Alison Katz heads a NGO known as Independent WHO, and she spends a lot of time arranging sandwich boards with messages like: “Complicity in Scientific Crime” or “Crime of Chernobyl – WHO Accomplice” in front of WHO headquarters/Geneva. For 10 years now on a daily vigil from 8:00-to-6:00 she and/or other protestors expose alleged misbehavior committed by WHO, right outside of the headquarters building. Imagine this: Ten years on the same street corner every working day. It’s commitment and determination sans pareil.

“The aim of the silent vigil is to remind the World Health Organisation of its duties. It was Hippocrates who formulated the ethical rules for health practitioners. The World Health Organisation ignores these rules, when it comes to protecting the health of the victims of the consequences of the nuclear industry”.

Which brings forth: Ten years of hard work combating a difficult and challenging issue warrants public adulation beyond carrying posters back and forth, come rain or shine, trudging away in the heat of the sun or the freezing cold and snow in front of WHO Hdqs. Hopefully, this article serves that purpose for Alison Katz.

The mission of Independent WHO is to expose WHO’s failings whilst calling for WHO independence away from influence by the worldwide nuclear syndicate: According to WHO Independence’s Web Site: “The World Health Organization (WHO) is failing in its duty to protect those populations who are victims of radioactive contamination.”

Ms Katz worked inside the WHO for 18 years. She insists that WHO, in cahoots with IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency), dangerously misrepresents the inherent dangers of ionizing radiation, an insinuation that smacks in the face with egregiousness galore.

Ms Katz’s April 2017 interview, which this article is based upon, can be heard in its entirety.

This article condenses and summarizes her one-hour interview. As such, according to Ms Katz: “The health consequences of nuclear activity, whether they are civil or military, are not known to the public… There has been a very high level cover up… including the WHO.”

For over 50 years WHO provided “a clean bill of health for nuclear power.” However, according to Ms Katz, that clean bill of health is not based upon independent science. It’s based upon “pseudo science” manipulated and largely controlled by the nuclear lobby and International Atomic Energy Agency, the Queen Bee of the pro-nuke Hive.

Furthermore, within the “United Nations family hierarchy,” WHO is entirely subservient to IAEA. In turn, IAEA reports to the Security Council of the UN or the very top echelon of the power hierarchy of the world, including France, China, UK, U.S., and the Russian Federation. Far and away, these are the world’s biggest nuke heads.

Connecting the dots leaves one breathless within a telling trail of pro-nuke advocacy of the highest order… hm-m-m, thus raising the question: How is it humanly possible for WHO to objectively, impartially, squarely and soberly analyze and recommend ionizing radiation issues on behalf of the general public?

Is it at all possible, even a little bit?

As it goes, the IAEA has two mandates, which sound innocent enough: (1) to prevent proliferation of nuclear power and (2) promotion of the use of the atom on a peaceful basis, ah-ah-ah… oh well, never mind. In reality, IAEA is a commercial lobbying org promoting use of the atom, yet at the same time, it dictates WHO procedures, standards, and published articles on the matter of nuclear radiation, prompting a very pregnant question: Is this a conflict of interest for WHO? Answer: Yes, it is! WHO is a creature of the dictates of IAEA, which is the world’s largest promoter of the atom. Whereas, WHO is supposed to “independently serve the public interest,” not kowtow to a nuclear advocacy powerhouse that reports to nuclear powerhouse countries that have a deepening love affair with nuclear power, warts and all.

For example, sixty (60) reactors are currently under construction in fifteen countries. In all, one hundred sixty (160) power reactors are in the planning stage and three hundred (300) more have been proposed. That’s a love affaire.

Meanwhile, as for WHO’s mandate: It serves as the leading authority of standards for public health, coordinating research, advising member states, and formulating ionizing radioactivity health policies. However, IAEA has been usurping WHO’s mandate for the past 50 years. In fact, a 1959 Agreement (WHA 12-40) between the two says WHO needs prior approval of IAEA before taking any action or publishing material dealing with nuclear, period!

As a result of this 50-year conflict of interest, which is deeply embedded by now, Ms Katz claims WHO must, absolutely must, become independent, thus breaking the stranglehold of numero uno promoter of nuclear power over WHO, which is mandated to serve the public, not IAEA.

Not only is there a serious conflict of interest, Katz claims WHO fails, time and again, to meet its mandate to the public, as for example:

1) WHO remained absent from Chernobyl for five years even though the WHO mandate requires it to be present the “day after a catastrophe” to evaluate and provide assistance. But, WHO was MIA for 5 years.

2) WHO does not issue independent reports on radiation issues. All nuclear-related reports are written by IAEA but published “in the name of the WHO.”

3) Following Chernobyl, there were two international conferences held to analyze the implications of the catastrophe; one held in Geneva in 1995 and the second in Kiev in 2001. The “Proceedings of the Conferences” were never published by WHO; thus, never made public even though WHO claims the proceedings are publicly available. Confusing? Yes! To this day, the relevant question remains: What did “the analyses” show?

As a result of WHO’s egregious conflicts, the world community has no independent arms-length source on nuclear radiation. That is a situation fraught with conflict and extremely difficult to accept, sans grimacing with a lot of teeth grinding.

Once again, with emphasis: There is no independent international authority reporting to the public on nuclear radiation…. none whatsoever. All information about nuclear radiation ultimately comes from the primary users/promoters of nuclear power even though they have a very big heavy axe to grind.

Of course, there are independent scientists, but they face enormous obstacles in coming forward with the truth, thereby risking monetary grants and risking personal positions, as well as family livelihood.

Not only that, but over the years all departments within WHO that dealt with nuclear radiation have been highly compromised. Even worse, according to Ms Katz, no senior radiation scientists work for WHO, none… nada.

What constitutes the “nuclear establishment” is a fair question; it consists of the major governments of the world like France and the U.S but led by the International Commission on Radiological Protection (ICRP), the top dog, establishing standards for the world. Strangely enough, there are no health experts at ICRP, prompting a logical question: Why not?

There is more to be concerned about, e.g., another shocking fact regarding ICRP, as if there are not already enough shockers with the thread that runs throughout nuclear power’s closely-knit network: Even though “ionizing radiation is mutagenic and always causes mutations, causing damage at the cellular level, there are no molecular biologists working in the ICRP” (Katz). Thus, the world’s largest institution for determination of radiation standards for the public has no molecular biologists on staff. That fact is beyond belief, an eye-opener beyond all other eye-openers.

It’s almost as if the regulators don’t give a damn about the effects of radiation on the general public. Do they?………….


Consequences of Chernobyl……..

Effects of Radiation

The genetic effects of radiation likely exceed anything understood by the general public, as WHO and other health orgs do not properly educate the public about radiation’s risks: “The genetic effects, far from diminishing with time, increase” (Katz), which is extra bad.

Years of research around Chernobyl show that the genetic impact of radiation to the human body becomes much, much worse as time passes. Thus, “radiation is both a continuing and a worsening catastrophe as time passes” (Katz). Radiation’s impact gets worse over time; it does not heal, does not dissipate, does not go away; it grows progressively worse, like the film sequels to Godzilla, which was conceived as a metaphor for nuclear weapons in the early 1950s.

Indisputably, all organ systems of the human body are affected by radioactive contamination. Cancer is not the only nasty result of radiation exposure. Radioactive contamination affects the entire human immune system from head to toe, thus impacting every organ system in the body, e.g. musculoskeletal, etc. This damage to organs is in addition to the various cancer risks.

After all, consider this, 30 years after the fact, horribly deformed Chernobyl Children are found in over 300 asylums in the Belarus backwoods deep in the countryside.

Equally as bad but maybe more odious, as of today, Chernobyl radiation, since 1986, is already affecting 2nd generation kids.

According to a USA Today article, Chernobyl’s Legacy: Kids With Bodies Ravaged by Disaster, April 17, 2016: “There are 2,397,863 people registered with Ukraine’s health ministry to receive ongoing Chernobyl-related health care. Of these, 453,391 are children — none born at the time of the accident. Their parents were children in 1986. These children have a range of illnesses: respiratory, digestive, musculoskeletal, eye diseases, blood diseases, cancer, congenital malformations, genetic abnormalities, trauma.”

It’s taken 30 years for the world, via an article in USA Today, to begin to understand how devastating, over decades, not over a few years, radiation exposure is to the human body. It is a silent killer that cumulates in the body over time and passes from generation to generation to generation, endless destruction that cannot be stopped.

Where is WHO is kinda like Where is Waldo, but sadly the effects of ionizing radiation are not part of a game. It is deadly serious, forevermore. In the meanwhile, Fukushima irradiates and irradiates, limitlessly and so far, unstoppable. Where does its radiation go?

Robert Hunziker lives in Los Angeles and can be reached at

World Health Organisation’s bizarre response to Chernobyl radiation

May 18, 2017

Hidden Radiation Secrets of the World Health Organization, CounterPunch  MAY 2, 2017

“………..WHO held a Chernobyl Forum in 2004 designed to “end the debate about the impact of Chernobyl radiation” whilst WHO maintains that 50 people died.

Here’s the final conclusion of that Chernobyl Forum ‘04: The mental health of those who live in the area is the most serious aftereffect, leading to strong negative attitudes and exaggerated sense of dangers to health and of exposure to radiation. Mental health was thus identified as the biggest negative aftereffect.

Because that conclusion is so brazenly bizarre, the Chernobyl Forum ‘04 must’ve been part of an alternative universe, way out there beyond the wild blue yonder, maybe the Twilight Zone or maybe like entering a scene in Jan Švankmajer’s Alice, a dark fantasy film loose adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland.

Here’s reality: Chernobyl Liquidators fought the Chernobyl disaster. Eight hundred thousand (800,000) Liquidators from the former USSR, largely recruits from the army, with average age of 33, fought the Chernobyl disaster.

According to an interview (2016) with a Liquidator, “We were tasked with the deactivation of the third and fourth reactors, but we also helped build the containment sarcophagus. We worked in three shifts, but only for five to seven minutes at a time because of the danger. After finishing, we’d throw our clothes in the garbage” (Source: Return to Chernobyl With Ukraine’s Liquidators, Aljazeera, April 25, 2016).

“Estimates of the number of liquidators who died or became ill as a result of their work vary substantially, but the men of the 633rd say that out of the 259 from their group, 71 have died. Melnik says that 68 have been designated as invalids by a state committee, which investigates their health and determines whether or not their diseases are attributable to Chernobyl… Dr Dimitry Bazyka, the current director-general of the National Research Centre for Radiation Medicine in Kiev, says that approximately 20,000 liquidators die each year,” Ibid.

As for total deaths, the Chief Medical Officer of the Russian Federation reported that 10% of its Chernobyl Liquidators were dead by 2001. The disaster occurred in 1986 with 80,000 dead within 16 years. Authorities out of Ukraine and Belarus confirmed Russian death numbers. Yet, WHO claims 50 died.

Eighty-thousand (80,000) Liquidators, as of 16 years ago, dead from Chernobyl, and that body count, according to Ms Katz, leaves out the people most contaminated by Chernobyl, meaning evacuees and also 57% of the fallout for Chernobyl came down outside of the USSR, Belarus, and Ukraine, and in 13 European countries 50% of the countryside was dangerously contaminated.

As for studies of the radiation impact of Chernobyl: “Thousands of independent studies in Ukraine, Belarus, and the Russian Federation and in many other countries, that were contaminated to varying degrees by radionuclides, have established that there has been significant increase in all types of cancer, in diseases of the respiratory, gastrointestinal, urogenital, endocrine immune, lymph node nervous systems, prenatal, perinatal, infant child mortality, spontaneous abortions, deformities and genetic anomalies….” (Katz)

Hence, WHO’s handling and analysis and work on Chernobyl leaves the curious-minded speechless, open-mouthed, agape, and confounded……..

Radioactive pollution and the health of babies

May 18, 2017

Fracking kills newborn babies – polluted water likely cause Tickell, 25th April 2017  A new study in Pennsylvania, USA shows that fracking is strongly related to increased mortality in young babies. The effect is most pronounced in counties with many drinking water wells indicating that contamination by ‘produced water’ from fracking is a likely cause. Radioactive pollution with uranium, thorium and radium is a ‘plausible explanation’ for the excess deaths.

A new study of Pennsylvania counties published today in the Journal of Environmental Protection shows for the first time that contamination from fracking kills babies.

The Marcellus shale area of Pennsylvania was one of the first regions where novel gas drilling involving hydraulic fracturing of sub-surface rock, now termed ‘fracking’, was carried out.

The epidemiological study by Christopher Busby and Joseph Mangano examines early infant deaths 0-28 days before and after the drilling of fracking wells, using official data from the US Centre for Disease Control to compare the immediate post-fracking four year period 2007-2010 with the pre-fracking four-year period 2003-2006.

Results showed a statistically significant 29% excess risk of dying age 0-28 days in the ten heavily fracked counties of Pennsylvania during the four-year period following the development of fracking gas wells. Over the same period, the State rate declined by 2%. They conclude:

“There were about 50 more babies died in these 10 counties than would have been predicted if the rate had been the same over the period as all of Pennsylvania, where the incidence rate fell over the same period.”

Radioactive water pollution to blame?

The Marcellus shale beneath Pennsylvania was one of the first areas where fracking began. Only 44 fracking wells were drilled before 2007, while 2,864 were drilled in 2007-2010.

The cause of the excess mortality is not proven in the study, however the authors point out that the fracking production process releases naturally occurring radioactive materials from shale strata which then contaminate groundwater.

These include radium, uranium, thorium and radon, an intensely radioactive gas which decays into radioactive ‘daughters’ with a half life of under four days. And as the authors write, fracking “involves the explosive destruction of large volumes of underground gas and oil retaining rocks and the pumping down of large amounts of what is termed ‘produced water’ which initially contains various chemical and sand additives.

“This produced water and backflow returns to the surface with a high load of dissolved and suspended solids including naturally occurring radioactive elements … The contaminated water has to be safely disposed of but this is often associated with violations of legal disposal constraints.”

Baby mortality related to exposure through water wells

In the five heavily-fracked counties in the northeast part of the state (Susquehanna, Bradford, Wyoming, Lycoming and Tioga), the number of deaths from 2003-2006 vs. 2007-2010 climbed from 36 to 60, a statistically significant rate increase of 66%.

The rate in the five counties in southwest Pennsylvania (Washington, Westmoreland, Greene, Butler and Fayette) rose 18%, from 157 to 178 deaths, though this increase was not statistically significant.

This divergence in relative risk between the heavily fracked NE and SW counties was initially perplexing, however the authors noticed the higher dependence on private water wells (potentially contaminated with frackiing fluids) for drinking water and other needs in the first region compared to the second.

In the NE group of counties , the number of water wells per birth ranged from 4.9 to 13.5, compared to 1.1 to 3 in the SW group of countries. Their chart of Relative Risk for early infant mortality after fracking (see image above right) plotted against ‘exposure’ defined as ‘water wells per birth’ on a county by county basis produced a straight-line graph – indicated a strong relation to increased mortality and exposure to groundwater.

Table [on original]: Water wells per birth and violations per annual birth in highly fracked Pennsylvania Counties.

They conclude: “The results therefore seem to support the suggestion that the vector for the effect is exposure to drinking water from private wells. This is a mechanistically plausible explanation. However the findings do not prove such a suggestion. We may examine other possible explanations for possible health effects which have been advanced.”

While radioactive pollution is carefully examined, the authors acknowledge alternatives including “the existence of chemical contaminants in the produced water” which they consider a “possible but unknown factor.”

Serious questions raised over health hazards of fracking

“A major component of early infant mortality is congenital malformation, e.g., heart, neurological, and kidney defects. These are known to be caused by exposures to Radium and Uranium in drinking water”, said Christopher Busby.

“Infant death rates were significantly high in highly-fracked counties in northeast Pennsylvania, those with the greatest density of private water wells, suggesting it is drinking water contamination driving the effect.”

Joseph Mangano added: “These results raise serious questions about potential health hazards of fracking, especially since the fetus and infant are most susceptible to environmental pollutants. This is a public health issue which should be investigated wherever fracking is being carried out or proposed.”

The result is expected to have significant insurance, investment, economic and downstream political implications in the US and other countries.

The study: ‘There’s a world going on underground-infant mortality and fracking in Pennsylvania‘ is by Busby C C and Mangano J J and published in the Journal of Environmental Protection 8(4) 2017. doi: 10.4236/jep.2017.84028

Dr Busby is the Scientific Secretary of the European Committee on Radiation Risk and is Scientific Director of Environmental Research SIA, based in the Latvian National Academy of Sciences, Riga, Latvia. Busby’s CV can be found here.

Chernobyl and its radioactive berry harvests

May 18, 2017

The harvests of Chernobyl, Aeon, Thirty years after the nuclear disaster, local berry-pickers earn a good living. What’s the hidden cost of their wares?, Kate Brown, is associate professor of history at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and the author of Plutopia (2013). Olha Martynyuk is a historian at the National Technical University of Ukraine.

You can’t miss the berry-pickers in the remote forests of northern Ukraine, a region known as Polesia. They ride along on bicycles or pile out of cargo vans. They are young, mostly women and children, lean and suntanned, with hands stained a deep purple. And they are changing the landscape around them. Rural communities across eastern Europe are struggling economically, but the Polesian towns are booming with new construction. Two hundred miles west of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, thousands of mushroom- and berry-pickers are revving up the local economy. As they forage, they are even changing the European diet, in ways both culinary and radiological.
The rise of the Polesian pickers adds a strange twist to the story that began on 26 April 1986, when an explosion at the Chernobyl plant blew out at least 50 million curies of radioactive isotopes. Soviet leaders traced out a 30 kilometre radius around the stricken reactor and emptied it of its residents. Roughly 28,000 square kilometres outside this exclusion zone were also contaminated. In total, 130,000 people were resettled, but hundreds of thousands remained on irradiated territory, including the Polesian towns of Ukraine’s Rivne Province. In 1990, Soviet officials resolved to resettle several hundred thousand more residents but ran out of money to carry out new mass evacuations.

Last summer, we went to Rivnе to talk to people who in the late 1980s wrote petitions begging for resettlement. In the letters, which we had found in state archives in Kiev and Moscow, writers expressed worries about their health and that of their children, while describing a sense of abandonment. Help never arrived; the Chernobyl accident came just as the Soviet state began to topple economically and politically……..

Anyone in Polesia can pick anywhere, as long as they are willing to brave the radioactive isotopes. After Chernobyl, Soviet officials strongly discouraged picking berries in contaminated forest areas, which promised to remain radioactive for decades. As the years passed, fewer and fewer people heeded the warnings. In the past five years, picking has grown into a booming business as new global market connections have enabled the mass sale of berries abroad. A person willing to do the hard work of stooping 10 hours a day and heaving 40-pound boxes of fruit to the road can earn good money. The women and child pickers are revitalising the Polesian economy on a modest, human-powered scale. They are quietly and unceremoniously doing what development agencies and government programmes failed to do: restoring commercial activity to the contaminated territory around the Chernobyl Zone.

We followed the pickers into the woods. …….

Reliance on the forest for a living is an ancestral tradition in Polesia. Because of the mineral-poor soils, traditional farming never thrived here. Instead, Polesians subsisted on game, fish, berries, herbs and mushrooms while making their tools and homes from wood and clay. What is new in the past few years is the industrial-sized scale of berry harvesting. A typical roadside berry-buyer purchases about two tons of berries a day in season, and there are hundreds of buyers. In 2015, Ukraine exported 1,300 tons of fresh berries and 17,251 tons of frozen berries to the European market – more than 30 times as much as in 2014. Ukraine is now one of biggest exporters of blueberries to the EU.

That success is all the more remarkable because Polesian berries are not just any berries. They grow in radioactive soils, which means that they carry some of Chernobyl’s legacy in them. We showed up at a berry wholesaler in the boom town of Rokytne and noticed a radiation monitor who was stationed to meet buyers at the loading dock. The situation there was tense. As the monitor waved a wand over each box of berries, measuring their gamma ray emission, she set aside about half of the boxes. The buyers argued with her, trying to lower the count on their berries: ‘It’s not the berries that are radiating. It’s my trailer. Measure it over there.’

We asked the monitor, a young townswoman, how many berries come up radioactive. ‘All the berries from Polesia are radioactive,’ she replied, ‘but some are really radioactive. We’ve had berries measure over 3,000!’ She could not describe what units she was referring to, microsieverts or microrems; she only knew which numbers were bad. ‘The needle has to be between 10 and 15,’ she said, vaguely pointing to her wand, ‘and then I place it in this machine.’ She gestured toward a small mass spectrometer. ‘If the readout is more than 450, then the berries are over the permissible level.’

Contrary to our assumption, the berries rejected as too radioactive were not discarded, but were merely placed aside. Then they, too, were weighed and sold, just at lower prices. The wholesalers we spoke to said that the radioactive berries were used for natural dyes. The pickers claimed the hot berries were mixed with cooler berries until the assortment came in under the permissible level. The berries could then legally be sold to Poland to enter the European Union (EU) market, even if some individual berries measured five times higher than the permissible level. Such mixing is legal as long as the overall mix of berries falls within the generous limit of 600 becquerel per kilogram set by the EU after the Chernobyl disaster.

No one, certainly no official, ever envisioned revitalising the economy by exploiting berries and mushrooms. Months after the 1986 accident, Soviet scientists determined that forest products were the most radioactive of all edible crops, and banned their consumption. However, villagers in Polesia never stopped harvesting berries and mushrooms (as well as game and fish) from the forests outside the fenced-off Chernobyl Zone. Women sold their produce surreptitiously at regional markets, deftly avoiding the police who learned to identify Polesians by their homemade baskets……..

AQlthough the Polesian berries meet EU standards, it remains unclear how healthy life is for those living in the Rivne Province. Official publications of the World Health Organization and the International Atomic Energy Agency assert that radiation levels in Polesia are too low to cause health damage other than a slight rise in the chance of cancer. However, that judgment is based on reference studies of Hiroshima and Nagasaki victims, not on local research in the Chernobyl zones. Wladimir Wertelecki, a geneticist at the University of California, San Diego, has spent the past 16 years tracking every recorded birth in the Rivne Province. ‘Hiroshima was just one big X-ray. It doesn’t compare to the doses of people in Polesia who ingest radioactive isotopes every day,’ he says. He thinks that the slow-drip exposure of organs to radioactive isotopes over decades makes for a far more damaging exposure than the single, external Hiroshima dose.

Researchers in Wertelecki’s group and those working on small, usually minimally financed medical studies have found that low doses of ingested radiation tend to concentrate in vital organs that keenly impact on important body functions. Yury Bandazhevsky, a pioneer in studying the health impacts of Chernobyl, has recorded a correlation between the incorporation of radioactive cesium in children’s bodies and heart disease in Belarus and Ukraine. Wertelecki and the Ukrainian medical researcher Lyubov Yevtushok discovered that in the six Polesian regions of the Rivne Province, certain birth defects, such as microcephaly, conjoined twins and neural-tube disorders occur three times more frequently than is the European norm. ‘We did not prove with this study that radiation causes birth defects. We just have a concurrence, not proof, of cause and effect,’ Wertelecki says. Nevertheless, he considers the concurrence statistically strong enough to warrant large-scale epidemiological studies that could prove or disprove whether the birth defects were caused by radiation.

Despite the fact that the nuclear disaster presented scientists with a unique living laboratory, few funding agencies have been willing to finance Chernobyl studies on non-cancerous health effects; based on Japanese bomb-survivor research, industry scientists have insisted that there would be no measurable non-malignant impacts. In Chernobyl-contaminated Polesia, however, few people doubt that ingesting radioactive toxins over decades has a biological cost.

Galina, the woman who declared that there was ‘no Chernobyl’, changed her view later when talking about her own health. Trim and fit at the age of 50, she had a stroke followed by two surgeries for ‘women’s cancer’. About her cancers, she said: ‘All of a sudden, they started growing day by day. I asked the doctors if they’d hold up the operation until autumn [after the harvest], but they said I’d be dead by then. Probably, these problems were caused by radiation. It does have an effect, apparently.’ Even less is known about non-cancer health impacts from Chernobyl. Many locals complain of aching and swollen joints, headaches, chronic fatigue and legs that mysteriously stop moving. There have been almost no studies investigating these vague complaints…….

here has been little public discussion and almost no medical research on the long-term, low-dose ingestion of radioactive isotopes. Presumably exporting the berries helps the people of Polesia, but for now there is no hard proof……

The mass marketing of radioactive Polesian forest products is an unexpected outcome of policies aimed at finalising the disaster. It is a development that disputes the focus on Chernobyl as a ‘place’. Rather, Chernobyl is an event, an ongoing occurrence that transpires as long as the radioactive energy released in the accident continues to decay…….

Ionising radiation: the long term impact on the Chernobyl region

May 18, 2017

The numbers of cases rose into the thousands, too high to dismiss, and in 1996 the WHO and the IAEA finally admitted that skyrocketing rates of childhood thyroid cancer were most likely due to Chernobyl exposures.

Today we know little about the non-cancerous effects that Soviet scientists working in contaminated zones reported in the late 1980s, and which they attributed to internal and external exposures to ionizing radiation. Are these effects as real as the childhood thyroid cancers proved to be? The Soviet post-Chernobyl medical records suggest that it is time to ask a new set of questions about long-term, low-dose exposures.

Chernobyl’s hidden legacy!edition/editions_Nuclear_2017/article/page-19330 Kate
 is a historian at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, US, e-mail
 Historian Kate Brown argues that scientists should re-examine Soviet-era evidence of health effects from low doses of radiation

In June 1980 a doctor with the Oak Ridge Associated Universities in the US wrote a letter to a colleague at the Knolls Atomic Power Laboratory in upstate New York. The pair were corresponding about a forthcoming study of employee health at the Knolls reactor, and the doctor, C C Lushbaugh, wrote that he expected “little ‘useful’ knowledge” from this study “because radiation doses have been so low”. Even so, he agreed that the study had to be done because “both the workers and their management need to be assured that a career involving exposures to low levels of nuclear radiation is not hazardous to one’s health”. The results of such a study, he surmised, would help to counter anti-nuclear propaganda and resolve workers’ claims. However, they could also be a liability. If a competing union or regulatory agency got hold of the employees’ health data, Lushbaugh fretted, it could be weaponized. “I believe,” he continued, “that a study designed to show the transgressions of management will usually succeed.”

Lushbaugh’s dilemma is characteristic of research on the human health effects of exposure to low doses of radiation. He assumed he knew the results – good or bad – before the study began, because those results depended on how the study was designed. The field was so politicized, in other words, that scientists were using health studies as polemical tools and, consequently, asking few open-ended scientific questions.

A few years after Lushbaugh posted this letter, reactor number four at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant blew up, killing 31 workers and firefighters and spreading radioactive material across a broad area of what was then the Soviet Union (now Ukraine and Belarus) and beyond. The accident also exploded the field of radiation medicine and, for a while, promised to rejuvenate it. In August 1986, months after the accident, the chief of the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR), Giovanni Silini, advocated an enduring epidemiological investigation similar to research on atomic-bomb survivors in Japan [1]. Many other scientists concurred, hoping that Chernobyl could clear up ongoing controversies and uncertainties surrounding low-dose exposures.

It never happened. No long-term epidemiological study took place. That’s not to say there isn’t any information. A few summers ago I went to the Ukrainian national archives in the dusty, bustling outskirts of Kiev and asked the archivists for files on Chernobyl from Soviet Ukraine’s Ministry of Health. They laughed, telling me Chernobyl was a banned topic in the Soviet Union. “You won’t find anything,” they said.

They were wrong. I found dozens of collections labelled “The medical effects of the Chernobyl disaster”. I started reading and have not yet been able to stop.

The aftermath

In the years between 1986 and 1991, doctors and sanitation officials wrote to the Ministry of Health in Kiev with alarming accounts of widespread, chronic illness among the hundreds of thousands of children and adults living in contaminated territories. They recorded increases in tonsillitis, upper respiratory disease and disorders of the digestive tract and immune system. Between 1985 and 1988, cases of anaemia doubled. Physicians from almost every region in the zone of contamination reported a leap in the number of reproductive problems, including miscarriages, stillbirths and birth malformations. Nervous-system disorders surged. So did diseases of the circulatory system. In 1988, in the heavily contaminated Polesie region of northern Ukraine, 80% of children examined had upper respiratory diseases and 28% had endocrine problems. In Ivankiv, where many cleanup workers lived, 92% of all children examined had a chronic illness.

I also went to Minsk to check the archives in Belarus. There, I read reports that sounded eerily similar to the Ukrainian documents. These reports were classified “for office use only”, meaning that at the time, scientists were not free to exchange this information across districts or republics of the Soviet Union. Even so, independently, they were reporting similar, bad news. The problem grew so dire in Belarus that in 1990 officials declared the entire republic, which received more than 60% of Chernobyl fallout, a “zone of national ecological disaster”.

The Ukrainian and Belarusian reports, hundreds of them, read like a dirge from a post-catastrophic world. Doctors wrote from clinics in Kharkiv, far outside the contaminated zone, and described similar health problems among evacuees who had settled there. Physicians sent telegrams from Donetsk, where they were treating a complex of illnesses among young miners who had burrowed under the smouldering reactor in the days after the accident. Medical workers sent in to examine people in contaminated regions also fell ill.

In response, the Union of Soviet Radiologists penned a petition to alert Soviet leaders of the ongoing public health disaster. The president of the Belarusian Academy of Science sent a detailed summary of scientists’ findings to Minsk and Moscow. Even a KGB general, Mikhailo Zakharash, sounded the alarm. Zakharash, who was also a medical doctor, conducted a study of 2000 cleanup workers and their family members in a specially equipped KGB clinic in Kiev. In 1990, summing up four years of medical investigation, he wrote, “We have shown that long term, internal exposures of low doses of radiation to a practically healthy individual leads to a decline of his immune system and to a whole series of pathological illnesses.”

Chronic radiation

These findings track with what Soviet doctors had long described as chronic radiation syndrome, a complex of symptoms derived from chronic exposure to low doses of radiation. Researchers working on Chernobyl discerned a pattern of disease that tracked with pathways of radioactive isotopes entering the body, paths that began in either the mouth and headed towards the gastrointestinal tract or started in the lungs and followed blood into circulatory systems. Radioactive iodine sped to thyroids, they hypothesized, causing endocrinal and hormonal damage.

Critics, mostly in Moscow and the ministries of health, acknowledged the growth in health problems, but denied a connection to Chernobyl. A E Romanenko, the Ukrainian Minister of Health, is credited with inventing the word “radiophobia” to describe a public fear of radiation that induced stress-related illness. He and his colleagues also pointed to a screening effect from mass medical monitoring. Local doctors, they said, were projecting the diagnoses of chronic radiation syndrome onto their patients, blaming it for any illness found after Chernobyl.

There are some problems with these arguments. From 1986 to 1989, Chernobyl was a censored topic in the Soviet Union. Doctors could not exchange information about health problems, nor did they have access to maps of radioactive contamination. They only learned to be “radiophobic” by judging the bodies they examined. In the same years, doctors were also fleeing contaminated areas en masse, leaving hospitals and clinics in those regions staffed at 60%. As physicians left, so too did the chance for diagnosis, meaning that under-reporting of illnesses was more likely than a screening effect. Moreover, doctors from the northern regions of the Rivne province, which were at first judged clean and only in late 1989 designated contaminated, reported the same growth of illness as areas originally deemed “control zones,” regions with counts of more than 5 curies per square kilometre. The president of the Belarusian Academy of Science, V P Platonov, pointed to a vacuum of knowledge: “Until this time, no population has ever lived with continual internal and external exposures of this size.” Risk assessments assuring safe levels in the contaminated zones were extrapolated from the Japanese Atomic Bomb Survivor Lifespan Study, but these began only in 1950, five years after exposure. “Much is uncertain,” Platonov continued, “about fundamental aspects of the effects of low doses of radiation on human organs,” [2].

What happened to the 1980s Chernobyl health studies, which might have led to a renaissance in the field of radioecology? Essentially, they were overlooked. To figure out why, I went to the headquarters of the World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva, to the UN’s archives in New York and the archives of UNSCEAR in Vienna. There, I found evidence of a conflict between branches of the WHO and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) over which organization would control the studies of Chernobyl health effects.

By 1989 angry crowds were questioning the Soviet Union’s handling of Chernobyl, and Soviet leaders asked foreign experts for help in assessing the disaster’s health impacts. The IAEA agreed, and Fred Mettler, a radiologist and American delegate to UNSCEAR, was appointed to head the medical section of an IAEA team. In 1990, as he and his team examined 1726 people in six contaminated zones and six control zones, Soviet doctors gave him 20 slides from children diagnosed with thyroid cancer. Thyroid cancer is very rare in children: before the Chernobyl accident, doctors saw eight or nine cases per year in all of Ukraine. Twenty cases in just three provinces was hard to believe. Dubious, Mettler brought the slides to the US to have them verified. They indeed indicated thyroid cancer.

Cancer cluster

Mettler mentioned this major medical finding in the 1991 International Chernobyl Project (ICP) technical report, but strangely, he also stated that there was “no clear pathologically documented evidence of an increase in thyroid cancer” [3]. The report concluded that there were no detectable Chernobyl health effects and only a probable chance of childhood thyroid cancers in the future. In a 1992 publication on thyroid nodules in the Chernobyl territories, Mettler failed to mention the 20 verified cases at all [4].

How could such a lapse occur? I found a confidential 1990 UN memo that seems relevant, particularly in light of the study-design problem set out in Lushbaugh’s letter a decade earlier. The memo suggests that the IAEA was conducting the ICP study to “allay the fears of the public” in service of “its own institutional interest for the promotion of peaceful uses of nuclear energy” [5]. The experiences of Keith Baverstock, then head of the radiation protection programme in the WHO’s European office, likewise reveal an institutional aversion to bad news. In July 1992 Baverstock planned to go to Minsk to examine childhood thyroid cases in Belarus, where doctors reported an astounding 102 new cases. At the last minute, officials from the WHO and the Commission of European Communities inexplicably pulled out of the mission. In an interview with me, Baverstock, an expert on the effects of ionizing radiation, said that a WHO official told him he could get fired if he went to Minsk.

He went anyway. With Belarusian scientists, he published news of the thyroid cancer epidemic in Nature. A top IAEA official complained angrily to the WHO, and the two agencies put pressure on Baverstock to retract his article. He refused, and a barrage of letters followed in Nature disputing the connection between the cancers and Chernobyl exposures [6]. Leading scientists from the US Department of Energy, the National Cancer Institute, Japan’s Radiation Effects Research Foundation and the IAEA argued that cancers were found because of increased surveillance. They called for a suspension of judgment and for further study. Repetitive and dismissive, their letters read like an orchestrated pile-on.

We now know that these global leaders in radiology were wrong. The numbers of cases rose into the thousands, too high to dismiss, and in 1996 the WHO and the IAEA finally admitted that skyrocketing rates of childhood thyroid cancer were most likely due to Chernobyl exposures. Today, the UNSCEAR maintains that the health consequences of the Chernobyl accident are limited to 31 direct fatalities – plus 6000 cases of children’s thyroid cancer [7].

Lingering questions

The question is – so what? Despite the 1991 ICP report’s erroneous claim of no health effects, UN agencies eventually recognized the cancer epidemic. What difference did a few years make? A great deal, it turns out. The ICP report also recommended that resettlements from the most contaminated regions should cease [8]. Consequently, the planned resettlement of 200,000 people living in areas contaminated with high levels of radiation (between 15 and 40 curies per square kilometre) slowed tremendously. The UN General Assembly had also been waiting for the report before raising funds for Chernobyl relief. The $646m budget (equivalent to about $1.1bn today) included medical aid, resettlement funds and a large-scale epidemiological study of Chernobyl health effects. The assertion by important UN agencies that there were no detectable health effects deflated that effort. Before the report, Japan had given $20m to the WHO, but afterwards it gave no more and complained about the funds being wasted. A few other countries gave sums totalling less than $1m, while the US and the European Community begged off entirely, citing the ICP report as a “factor in their reluctance to pledge” [9].

In subsequent years, IAEA and UNSCEAR officials cited the ICP report when discouraging Chernobyl-related health projects. In 1993 UNSCEAR scientific secretary Burton Bennett recommended that UN agencies suspend all programmes aimed at Chernobyl relief because they were unnecessary. He and IAEA administrator Abel Gonzalez, who led the ICP assessment, widely shared their views among UN agencies about “misinformation surrounding the Chernobyl accident” [10]. When the WHO, nonetheless, started a pilot study on Chernobyl health effects, Gonzalez wrote that he could not imagine what the WHO “expects to be able to detect for the level of doses in question”. Irked that WHO officials would examine any effects but psychological ones, he charged, “The World Health Organization seems to ignore, expressly or tacitly, the conclusions and recommendations of the International Chernobyl Project,” [11].The consequences of this moment of deviant science continue 30 years later. Today we know little about the non-cancerous effects that Soviet scientists working in contaminated zones reported in the late 1980s, and which they attributed to internal and external exposures to ionizing radiation. Are these effects as real as the childhood thyroid cancers proved to be? The Soviet post-Chernobyl medical records suggest that it is time to ask a new set of questions about long-term, low-dose exposures.


  1. Giovanni Silini 1986 “Concerning proposed draft for long-term Chernobyl studies” Correspondence Files, UNSCEAR Archive
  2. V P Platonov and E F Konoplia 1989 “Informatsiia ob osnovynkh rezul’tatakh nauchnykh rabot, sviazannykh s likvidatsiei posledstvii avarii na ChAES” RGAE 4372/67/9743: 490
  3. International Chernobyl Project, Proceedings of an International Conference (Vienna: IAEA 1991): 47. Mettler also admitted that the slides checked out at the Vienna conference convened to discuss the report. For a discussion of thyroid cancer, see The International Chernobyl Project, Technical Report, Assessment of Radiological Consequences and Evaluation of Protective Measures (Vienna: IAEA 1991): 388
  4. Fred Mettler et al. 1992 “Thyroid nodules in population around Chernobyl” Journal of American Medical Association 268 616
  5. From Enrique ter Horst, Asst Sec Gen, ODG/DIEC to Virendra Daya, Chef de Cabinet, EOSG, 16 April 1990, United Nations Archive, New York S-1046 box 14, file 4, acc. 2001/0001
  6. Baverstock et al. 1992 “Thyroid cancer after Chernobyl” Nature 359 21; Kazakov et al. 1992 “Thyroid cancer after Chernobyl” Nature 359 21; I Shigematsu and J W Thiessen 1992 “Childhood thyroid cancer in Belarus” Nature 359 680; V Beral and G Reeves 1992 “Childhood thyroid cancer in Belarus” Nature 359 680; E Ron, J Lubin, A B Scheider 1992 “Thyroid cancer incidence” Nature 360 113
  7. The Chernobyl accident: UNSCEAR’s assessments of the radiation effects” UNSCEAR website
  8. The International Chernobyl Project: an Overview (Vienna: IAEA 1991): 44
  9. “International co-operation in the elimination of the consequences of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant accident” 24 May 1990, UNA S-1046/14/4; “Third meeting of the Inter-Agency Task Force on Chernobyl” 19–23 September 1991, WHO E16-445-11, 5; “Briefing note on the activities relating to Chernobyl” 3 June 1993, Department of Humanitarian Affairs DHA, UNA s-1082/35/6/, acc 2002/0207; Anstee to Napalkov, 17 Jan 1992, WHO E16-445-11, 7
  10. Gonzalez to Napalkov, 10 August 1993, WHO E16-445-11, 19; B G Bennett 1993 “Background information for UNEP representative to the meeting of the Ministerial Committee for Coordination on Chernobyl” 17 November 1993, New York, Correspondence Files, UNSCEAR Archive, Vienna
  11. Gonzalez to Napalkov, 10 August 1993, WHO E16-445-11, 19

For centuries the dangers of uranium mining have been known

May 18, 2017

Native American uranium miners and the Trump budget, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists  Robert Alvarez, 30 Mar 17, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists  “…….The hazards of uranium mining have been known for centuries. As early as 1556, dust in the Ore Mountain (Erzgebirge) mines bordering Germany and what is now the Czech Republic was reported to have “corrosive qualities… it eats away the lungs and implants consumption in the body…” By 1879, researchers found that 75 percent of the miners in the Ore Mountains had died from lung cancer. By 1932, the Ore Mountain miners were receiving compensation for their cancers from the German government. Uranium mining was convincingly linked to lung cancer by dozens of epidemiological and animal studies by the late 1930s.

In 1942, Wilhelm C. Hueper, the founding director of the environmental cancer section of the National Cancer Institute, brought the European studies to light in the United States—concluding that radon gas was responsible for half of the deaths of European miners after 10 to 20 years of exposure. By this time, uranium had become a key element for the making of the first atomic weapons. Hueper’s superiors blocked him from further publication and discussion in this area; they told him that dissemination of such information was “not in the public interest.”

In fact, withholding information about workplace hazards was deeply embedded in the bureaucratic culture of the early nuclear weapons program. In 1994, the Energy Department made a previously secret document, written in the late 1940s, public. It crystallized the long-held rationale for keeping nuclear workers in the dark: “We can see the possibility of a shattering effect on the morale of the employees if they become aware that there was substantial reason to question the standards of safety under which they are working. In the hands of labor unions, the results of this study would add substance to demands for extra-hazardous pay.”

Kee Begay worked in the mines for 29 years and was dying of lung cancer when I first met him. “The mines were poor and not fit for human beings,” he told me. Begay also lost a son to cancer. “He was one of many children that used to play on the uranium piles during those years. We had a lot of uranium piles near our homes—just about 50 or 100 feet away or so. Can you imagine? Kids go out and play on those piles.”

In 1957, the US Public Health Service reported that the average radiation lung dose to Indian miners was 21 times higher than was allowed in the Atomic Energy Commission’s nuclear weapons plants. In 1962, the Public Health Service revealed that radon exposure in the mines was statistically linked to lung cancer among US miners—at a rate comparable to what Heuper had warned about 20 years earlier.

Lung disease associated with radon exposure was “totally avoidable,” former chief health scientist for the AEC Merrill Eisenbud said in 1979. “The Atomic Energy Commission … is uniquely responsible for the death of many men who developed lung cancer as a result of the failure of the mine operators, who must also bear the blame, because they too had the information, and the Government should not have had to club them into ventilating their mines………..”

Uranium Exposure – The Navajo Birth Cohort Study

May 18, 2017
Mothers, Babies on Navajo Nation Exposed to High Levels of Uranium Navajo Birth Cohort Study figuring out how exposure affects health Tanya H. Lee • December 20, 2016

Researchers with the Navajo Birth Cohort Study aren’t looking for simple answers about how uranium exposure affects health. We already know—and have known for decades—that contact with uranium can cause kidney disease and lung cancer.

This study is the first to look at what chronic, long-term exposure from all possible sources of uranium contamination—air, water, plants, wildlife, livestock and land—does down through the generations in a Native American community.

Since the study began in 2012, over 750 families have enrolled and 600 babies have been born to those families, said Dr. Johnnye Lewis, director of the Community Environmental Health Program & Center for Native Environmental Health Equity Research at the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center and NBCS principal investigator.

We’re collecting a huge amount of data,” Lewis said. “At this point … all of our results are preliminary, [but] what we do know is that if we look at uranium in urine in the Navajo participants we see higher concentrations than we would expect based on the U.S. population as a whole… [In babies,] we are seeing a trend that uranium levels in urine increase over the first year.”

The Navajo Nation overlies some of the largest uranium deposits in the U.S. Between 1944 and 1986, miners extracted nearly 30 million tons of uranium from Navajo Nation lands. Navajo miners did not have protective suits or masks; they took their work clothes home for laundering; they and other community members used rocks from the mines to build their homes.

When the Cold War ended, most of the uranium mines on Navajo were abandoned—not covered, or sealed, or remediated, just left as they were with waste piles exposed to wind and rain and accessible to anyone, including children.

Today, more than 500 open abandoned uranium mines are spread across the Navajo Nation and uranium dust, particles and radiation continue to be released into the environment.

The questions the NBCS seeks to answer are complex. Uranium does not exist in isolation at the mine sites, so the study is looking at 36 different metals associated with uranium. “We do that because when you look at uranium waste, it’s not just uranium that’s in the waste,” said Lewis. “None of the variables that we look at, none of the causes or the outcomes that we look at are on-off binary sort of things. What we look at is as concentrations of uranium or other metals changes, can we see changes in responses?”

Researchers have also been alarmed by the findings that levels of iodine and zinc are lower than they should be in the study group. Iodine levels are about 40 percent below the World Health Organization sufficiency level, and 61 percent of the mothers in the study have zinc levels below the WHO sufficiency level. “Iodine deficiencies [are] very, very important because iodine is really critical for normal organ development and neurodevelopment,” said Lewis. “And we worry about zinc because we have some evidence that it may be involved in the repair process when you have exposure to some of the metals that we look at. [A lack of zinc] actually inhibits the body’s ability to fix damage to DNA.”

Documenting these deficiencies would make the NBCS worthwhile “even if we learn there are absolutely no [long-term health] effects from uranium,” Lewis said. “Whatever we find out is going to be important.”

Two other endeavors resulting from the study are already in the works, and both will be hugely important to the well-being of Navajo families in the future.

The project has just won Environmental Influences on Child Health Outcomes (ECHO) Program funding from the National Institutes of Health. The project is looking at kids all across the U.S. to try to understand how their environment influences their health. It will eventually include 50,000 children and at least two cohorts will be from Native American communities, Lewis said. “We’re just really pleased that they’re including Native Americans.”

The Centers for Disease Control funding for the NBCS only allows families to be followed for up to one year. This new funding, which extends over 5 years after a 2-year initial period, will allow the researchers to go back and look again at each child on an annual basis and do much more detailed developmental assessments. In the process, they will be able to develop an assessment that takes into account Navajo parenting styles and create an instrument that is valid specifically for Navajo children, unlike standardized developmental assessments that are devised based primarily on the dominant culture’s parenting practices.

To accomplish that, “we put together a clinical team that is going to be training our Navajo staff to deliver these developmental assessments. It will be a long process of working together. They’ll be trained and then they will shadow the clinical team so that they get a lot more experience off Navajo before ever coming back here and then when they come back they’ll each be partnered with either a neurodevelopmental expert or psychometrician … who will be hired through the program. They will initially shadow them and then be shadowed by them to ensure that we have consistency.

“So at the end of seven years what we’re going to have is a really great team of professional evaluators who will be staying on Navajo and who will provide that new service” to Navajo families, Lewis said.

The NBCS is a collaborative effort of the University of New Mexico’s DiNEH Project, Center for Disease Control/Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (CDC/ATSDR), Navajo Area Indian Health Service, and the Navajo Nation Division of Health, and the Southwest Research and Information Center.

Women between the ages of 14 and 45 who have lived on the Navajo Nation for five years, are pregnant and will deliver their babies at hospitals in Chinle, Gallup, Shiprock, Ft. Defiance and Tuba City are eligible to participate in the study. Call 1-877-545-6775 for information.