Infant mortality rates drop around five US nuclear power reactors after reactors closed
4 May 2000
By Danielle Knight
WASHINGTON, Apr 26 (IPS) - Infant mortality rates around five US nuclear power reactors dropped almost immediately after the reactors closed, according to a new study released Wednesday on the 14th anniversary of theChernobyl nuclear disaster. Raising questions whether allowable emissions of ''low-level'' radiation from nuclear plants endanger nearby residents, the study has prompted calls forthe US government to begin considering adverse health effects associated with nuclear plants before renewing their operating licences.
The study was conducted by the New York-based Radiation and Public Health Project and published in Spring edition of ''Environmental Epidemiology and Toxicology'', a scientific journal.
Joseph Mangano, the author of the study and a research associate at the Project, says it is the first to document improvements in health after a nuclear plant closes and supports other studies showing elevated childhoodcancer near operating reactors. ''However, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), utilities and public health departments have never voluntarily performed a single study on cancer or other radiation-induced conditions,'' he says.
Using public health statistics published by the government, Mangano examined infant death rates in counties within 50 miles and in the prevailing wind -or ''downwind'' - direction of five reactors across the United States. In the first two years after the reactors closed, infant death rates fell 15 to 20 percent from the previous two years, compared to an average US decline of only six percent between 1985 and 1996.
In each of the five areas studied, no other nuclear reactor operated within70 miles of the closed reactor, essentially creating a ''nuclear-free zone,'' says Mangano.
The study also details the fall in newly diagnosed leukaemia and cancer cases and birth defect deaths in children under five years in the four-county local area downwind from the Rancho Seco reactor, near the metropolitan area of Sacramento, California. Mangano says this decline has continued through the first seven years after the June 1989 closing. In contrast, the local infant death rate rose in the two years after Rancho Seco began operations in 1974.
Mangano says in addition to the regions surrounding the five reactors in the study, he has recently found dramatic decreases in infant mortality rates near two reactors that closed in 1997. In communities near the Big Rock Point reactor in Michigan, the percentagedecrease in infant mortality rates was 54.1 percent. At the Maine Yankee reactor in Maine, the percentage decrease was 33.4 percent.
Mangano say people may have been affected by radioactivity that has made its way into the local air, water, milk, vegetation and fish.
While the study does not directly link the cause of the decreased infant mortality rates to less environmental exposure to radiation from power plants, some medical experts say the study confirms a pattern that links radiation and illness.
Other environmental factors, such as pesticide use, heavy industry, incinerators and waste dumps did not significantly change in the regions studied during that short two year time period, says Janette Sherman, a medical doctor who specialises in internal medicine and toxicology. Sherman, who has written several books about the relationship between chemical exposure and disease, says the study confirms the best of public health principles: that when you remove a known cause of illness, health improves.
''What is gratifying about the research is that it showed childhood health measures increasing so dramatically and quickly after the reactors closed,'' she says.
Environmental advocacy groups say the study raises public policy questions about the risks to the health of 42 million people in the United States living downwind and under 50 miles of nuclear power plants.
The Radiation and Public Health Project with the Standing for Truth About Radiation (STAR) Foundation, also based in New York, is urging the NRC to consider Mangano and other health studies when considering license renewal applications. Current NRC rules do not consider local health impacts. Owners of 28 of the 103 reactors at 17 nuclear plants are scheduled to seeklicense renewals by 2003. Many of these plants have questionable safety records, with documents showing numerous safety violations, says the STAR Foundation.
''Although many believe that emissions and leaks from nuclear power plants are harming those who live near these facilities, the federal government does not consider potential health effects when renewing licenses, says ChristieBrinkley, a model who is on the board of the Foundation and is using her celebrity status to help focus public attention on this issue.
The study has already caught the attention of one lawmaker. ''At the very least, the government has a responsibility to determine whether emissions from these plants are harming people,'' said Michael Forbes, a Democratic congressman, at a press conference here Wednesday.
His district in the eastern Long Island region of the state of New York lies across the Long Island Sound from Millstone Nuclear Power Station in the state of Connecticut.
For some residents living near the reactors who feel they have suffered from low-level radiation leaks from nearby reactors, the government's inaction has been ''maddening.''
Randy Snell, a New York resident who lives near the Brookhaven National Laboratory, learned several years ago that his seven-year- old daughter haddeveloped a rare soft tissue cancer called rhabdomyosarcoma.
Snell has discovered 19 other cases of the same rare cancer in the county where he lives. In one area near the laboratory, the rate of cancer in children under 10 since 1994 is 15 times the national average, he says. ''State and federal public health agencies haven't lifted a finger to confirm the link between Brookhaven and all these rare child cancers,'' he says. ''I hope this study forces them to act.''NUKES CLOSE --
INFANT MORTALITY GOES DOWN
Date: 25 Apr 2000
Information from the Tooth Fairy Project Press Conference
Infant Deaths Drop Dramatically After Nuclear Plants Close.
Congressman Join Groups Calling on Government to Consider Adverse Health Effects of Radiation When Renewing Nuclear Plant Licenses
Washington, D.C - Infant death rates near five U.S. nuclear plants dropped immediately and dramatically after the reactors closed, a new study shows, raising questions about the government's refusal to consider the effects of radioactive emissions from nuclear plants on local residents.
Moreover, dramatic decreases in childhood cancer cases and deaths from birth defects, which are strongly affected by radiation exposure, occurred near one of the reactors. The study suggests that the health of 42 million Americans who live downwind and within 50 miles of a nuclear plant may be affected by these reactors, according to the study's author. The study was conducted by the New York-based Radiation and Public Health Project and published in the spring issue of the scientific journal Environmental Epidemiology and Toxicology.
In light of the study, model Christie Brinkley today joined Rep. Michael Forbes (D-N.Y.) and others in calling upon the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to immediately consider whether adverse health effects are associated with nuclear plant operations before renewing nuclear power plant licenses. Brinkley is a board member of the STAR (Standing for Truth About Radiation) Foundation, a group formed in 1997 by concerned Long Island residents.
"As a mother of young children who lives near nuclear facilities, I worry daily that radiation from these plants may be deadly to our children," Brinkley said. "So far, the federal government has buried its head in the sand. If closing the nuclear power plants was not responsible for the decline in infant deaths, what was?"
The NRC rules do not consider the potential adverse health effects of radioactive emissions when considering license renewal applications. Owners of twenty-eight nuclear reactors at 17 nuclear facilities around the country are scheduled to seek license renewals by 2003. The NRC has never voluntarily studied the link between radioactive emissions from nuclear plants and patterns of cancer.
The study, conducted by Joseph J. Mangano, a research associate at the Radiation and Public Health Project, examined infant death rates in counties within 50 miles and in the prevailing wind direction of five reactors: Fort St. Vrain (located near Denver, Colo.), LaCrosse (near LaCrosse, Wis.), Millstone/Haddam Neck (near New London CT), Rancho Seco (near Sacramento, Calif.) and Trojan (near Portland, Ore.).
In the first two years after the reactors closed, infant death rates in the downwind counties under 40 miles from the plants fell 15 to 20 percent from the previous two years, compared to an average U.S. decline of just six percent between 1985 and 1996. In each of the five areas studied, no other nuclear reactor operated within 70 miles of the closed reactor, essentially creating a "nuclear-free zone."
The study detailed the plunges in newly-diagnosed leukemia and cancer cases and birth defect deaths in children under five years in the four-county local area downwind from Rancho Seco. This excessive decline has continued through the first seven years after the June 1989 closing. In contrast, the local infant death rate rose in the two years after Rancho Seco began operations in 1974.
"This article is the first to document improvements in health after a nuclear plant closes," says study author Mangano. "It supports many other studies showing elevated childhood cancer near operating reactors." "The federal government allows nuclear reactors to emit a certain level of radiation, saying that the amount is too low to result in adverse local health effects. However, this study clearly calls that assumption into question, as do other studies," he concluded.
The announcement comes on the 14th anniversary of the catastrophic accident at Chernobyl, a nuclear power reactor. Increased infant cancer and death rates after Chernobyl have been documented, not just in the former Soviet Union, but in Western Europe and the U.S., where Chernobyl fallout levels were deemed by regulators to be within safe limits. Nuclear plants seeking re-licensing this year include Oconee Nuclear Station in northwest South Carolina; Arkansas Nuclear One in Russellville, Ark.; Edwin I. Hatch in southern Georgia; and Turkey Point near Miami, Fla. In 2001, plants expected to seek re-licensing include Catawba, which lies on the border between North Carolina and South Carolina; North Anna, located near Fredericksburg, Va.; Surry, near Virginia Beach, Va.; and Peach Bottom, located near Lancaster, Pa. Recently, the government approved a license renewal application for Calvert cliffs, located near Baltimore, Md.
Said Forbes, whose eastern Long Island district lies across the Long Island Sound from Millstone Nuclear Power Station in Connecticut, "On this day in particular, which is the fourteenth anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster in Russia, we need to address the very real and legitimate concerns of people who live near nuclear reactors. At the very least, the government has a responsibility to determine whether emissions from these plants are harming people."
Janette Sherman, an Alexandria, Va., M.D. who specializes in internal medicine and toxicology, and has written books about the causes of breast cancer and the relationship between chemical exposure and disease, said she believes Mangano's study confirms the link between radiation and illness.
"This confirms the best of public health principles: that when you remove a known cause of illness, health improves," Sherman said. "The adverse effects on humans exposed to radiation are predictable. What is gratifying about the research is that it showed childhood health measures increasing so dramatically and quickly after the reactors closed."
For some of those who live near reactors, the government's inaction has been maddening. Randy Snell, a New York resident who lives near the Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL), learned several years ago that his 8-year-old daughter had developed a rare soft tissue cancer called rhabdomyosarcoma. Snell also has uncovered 19 other cases of the same rare cancer in Suffolk County; in one area near BNL, the rate of this cancer in children under 10 since 1994 is 15 times the national average.
"I have no doubt that radiation from nuclear reactors sickens people who live nearby," Snell said. "What is really disheartening, though, is that state and federal public health agencies haven t lifted a finger to confirm the link between Brookhaven and all these rare child cancers. I hope this study forces them to act."
Scott Cullen, Counsel Radiation and Public Health Project East Hampton, NY 11937 firstname.lastname@example.org www.noradiation.org
Jerry Brown, Ph.D., National Coordinator Standing for Truth About Radiation (STAR) Miami Beach, Florida 33140 email@example.com www.radiation.org 516 324-0655 fax (305) 321-5612
Coalition for Peace and Justice and the UNPLUG Salem Campaign; 321 Barr Ave., Linwood, NJ 08221; 609-601-8537 or 609-601-8583 (8583: fax, answer machine); firstname.lastname@example.org; UNPLUG SALEM WEBSITE: http://www.unplugsalem.org / COALITION FOR PEACE AND JUSTICE WEBSITE: http://members.bellatlantic.net/~norco/ICQ# 54268619 ; The Coalition for Peace and Justice is a chapter of Peace Action.