CHAPTER FOUR: HEALTH DAMAGE
THIS CHAPTER CLARIFIES THAT THERE IS NO SAFE AMOUNT OF RADIATION. ANY DOSE IS AN OVERDOSE.
In high, short doses like the Hiroshima bomb blast, radiation primarily causes direct damage to the nucleus of cells where the genes that control the functioning of the cell are located. This high level radiation causes an alteration in the structure of the DNA, the chromosomes that carry the genetic blueprint, resulting in incorrect structure of new cells. Damaged DNA tends to reproduce new cells very rapidly – becoming what we call cancer.
In contrast, low doses acting continuously over time produce their damage indirectly through the generation of free radicals that destroy cell-membranes, hundreds to thousands of times more efficiently than might be expected in calculations related to high-dose damage. So the everyday amount of radiation that is released as part of the normal operation of the world’s 400 nuclear power plants is a very grave concern. Nuclear power plants must have releases in order to function, and these releases, even though they may be partially filtered, disperse radiation into our air and drinking water, onto farmland and into our food.
Since the work of Abram Petkau in 1972 (see ch. 3) it is known that low protracted doses of radiation cause physiological damage through the formation of free radicals. A free radical is a molecule with an imbalance in electrons which can destabilize other molecules resulting in cellular damage and disease.
All living and nonliving things are made up of units of matter called atoms. When atoms join together they are called molecules. Atoms are made up of two basic parts: a nucleus and pairs of electrons. The nucleus has a positive electric charge that balances the negative electric charge of the electrons. There is a dynamic balance both between the pairs of electrons and between the electrons and the nucleus.
When an electron is added or removed this balance is lost, and the atom or molecule seeks to regain this balance by taking an electron from another atom, which triggers a chain reaction.
Uncontrolled free radicals damage body cells either by breaking down the cell membrane, by attacking the internal working of the cell, or by going right to the nucleus to attack the genetic material. A fundamental way that free radicals cause their damage is by breaking down natural body fats. Since the cell membrane is composed of fatty tissue (called lipids), it is a target for free radical attack. They may destroy the cell membrane, so that it cannot take in nutrients or release wastes. This leads eventually to the collapse and death of the cell.
Free radicals can damage white blood cells and particularly the defender T cells, both of which are key to a strong immune system–and enable you to ward off bacteria and viruses. Free radicals may also weaken essential antibodies that are produced by the immune system to protect from disease, resulting in susceptibility to communicable diseases. Uncontrolled free radicals may disturb nerve chemicals, which can affect the brain and nervous system. They may slow or distort the transmission of messages by damaging neurotransmitters, resulting in memory loss and mental problems including senile dementia. Free radicals may also eat away at the protective myelin sheath around the nerves, limiting reflexes or causing multiple sclerosis.
Digestive enzymes are also vulnerable to free radical assault, reducing their ability to digest and utilize food and thus limiting the absorption of nutrients. Free radicals may injure the lubricating synovial fluid around the joints, causing inflammation and pain and resulting in arthritis, bursitis or gout. Free radicals cause what science calls ‘cross-linking’, a hooking together of cell structures that may be partly responsible for hardening of the arteries, stiffness of joints, and wrinkling of skin–many of the manifestations of aging. Cross-linking in the lungs causes emphysema.
Free radicals may damage genes, the DNA and RNA in the cell nucleus that mastermind the creation of new cells. When a cell with a damaged gene divides to make two cells, the new cell may be abnormal. When the DNA is damaged it tends to reproduce new cells very rapidly–the hallmark of cancer. Damaged DNA may produce cells that are not able to function as they were meant to, resulting in, for example, deterioration of tissue and organs and messenger hormones, among many other things.
Free radicals account for nearly all of the signs and symptoms we think of as normal (and inevitable) in aging. An article in the August 1992 issue of the journal Science centered on ‘the importance of free radical damage to nucleic acids and lipids in age-related disease processes’. It explained what a difficult task the human body faces in counteracting free radicals, which some researchers believe are responsible for thousands of alterations to the DNA of each cell. The article concludes that a “fraction of such a massive amount of damage would escape repairs by even the most sophisticated mechanisms and the accumulation of unrepaired damage could account for the age related loss of physiological function.”
Free radicals can also cause malformed molecules–which the immune system sees as foreign invaders. The immune system reacts to clear them out, eventually becoming worn down and exhausted in the process–and unable to fully combat the real enemies it faces. This allows disease to take hold. The weakest points start to go first. In one person it may be arthritis, in another it may be extreme fatigue, in another allergies and so on. Free radical damage to cells progresses to tissues and organs and results principally in heart disease, cancer, diabetes, arthritis, and diseases of immune suppression.
In brief, free radicals can damage any organ system of the body. When we see these effects as laypeople, we pass them off as aging, medical scientists call them ‘degenerative diseases.’
RADIATION > FREE RADICAL > CELL DAMAGE > TISSUE DAMAGE > DISEASE
The immune system is the body’s protective system, which has the purpose of ensuring survival of the individual. It does this by looking out for any alien structures, and when it sees them, it engulfs and removes them. It is composed of a network of organs, hormones and special cells that defend the body from bacteria, virus and cancer cells by neutralizing them.
There are about a trillion lymphocytes, white blood cells, which become differentiated by the immune system to do different jobs. The thymus gland is where white blood cells are turned into T cells. The thymus is vulnerable to free radical damage, thus affecting its function of creating T cells from white blood cells.
The immune system has to be able to distinguish what should be there from what should not be there. It has the brilliant ability to differentiate between what is a part of the body and what is an alien invader. This alien might be a germ from outside or one of your own cells turned malignant. Or it could be a malformed structure caused by a free radical reaction. Mopping up too many of these odd structures will exhaust the immune system.
This insidious damage to the immune system can result in: Down’s syndrome, cleft lip, epilepsy, kidney and liver damage, thyroid disease, increased infant mortality, infertility, genetic mutations, congenital malformations, arthritis, heart disease and diabetes and can impair intellectual ability and shorten the life span.
The following health data was compiled by the Nuclear Information and Resource Service in 1998 (www.nirs.org). It compares the increase in disease from exposure to radiation to a relevant baseline.
|1.||1500% increase in incidence of testicular and ovarian cancer in children on Navaho reservation in uranium mining area|
|2.||500% increase in bone cancer in children affected by uranium
250% increase in leukemia (all ages) in the Navaho population
|3.||200% increase in each of the following non-cancer effects: miscarriage, infant death, congenital defects, genetic abnormalities, learning disorders.|
|4.||500% increase in birth defects when compared to the national average.
(Southwest Research and Information Center. “Uranium Legacy.” The Workbook, v 8, no 6. Albuquerque, NM: 1983.)
BASELINE for 1-4: Navajo residents living near uranium facilities were compared to Navajo residents in non- uranium areas
|5.||400% increase in leukemia incidence in the population living downwind of the Pilgrim nuclear power reactor in Massachusetts in the first 5 years after fuel was known to have leaked excess radioactivity.
BASELINE for 5: Disease in population before and after Pilgrim radioactive releases and comparison to upwind population. (Morris M. Knorr R. The Southeastern Massachusetts Health Study 1978-1986-Report of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. October 1990. See also: Clapp R, Cobb S et al. “Leukemia Near Massachusetts Nuclear Power Plant.” Letter in Lancet. December 5, 1987.)
|6.||300-400% increase in lung cancer in the general population within the plume of the Three Mile Island accident releases|
|7.||600-700% increase in leukemia in the general population within the plume of Three Mile Island accident releases.
BASELINE for 6 & 7: Disease in population upwind (out of the radiation plume path) is compared to disease in population downwind (in the pollution plume.) (Wing S. Richardson D. et al. “A Reevaluation of Cancer Incidence Near the Three Mile Island Nuclear Power Plant: The Collision of Evidence and Assumptions.” Environmental Health Perspectives, v 105, no 1. National Institutes of Health. Bethesda, Maryland. January 1997.)
|8.||50% increase in childhood cancer incidence in the Three Mile Island area for each 10 millirem increase in radiation exposure per year.
BASELINE for 8: Children living with different radiation levels are compared for evidence of disease. (Hatch M. et al. “Background Gamma Radiation and Childhood Cancers Within Ten Miles of a US Nuclear Power Plant.” International Journal of Epidemiology, v 19, no xx1990.)
|9.||8000% increase in thyroid cancer in Belarussian children living near Chernobyl. reported 6 years after the meltdown.
BASELINE for 9: Comparison of population health before and after the Chernobyl explosion. (Hudson RL. “Child Cancers Found to Rise Near Chernobyl.” The Wall Street Journal. September 3, 1992. The article they quote was published in Nature on the same day and was researched by the World Health Organization.)
The whole body can be damaged by radiation exposure but among body systems the thyroid gland is especially vulnerable. It is located on the lower part of the neck and weighs only about one ounce, yet it has an enormous effect on overall body functions. A malfunctioning thyroid can manifest symptoms physically, mentally and emotionally. It can be a factor in heart disease, chronic fatigue syndrome, allergies, auto immune disease and repeated infections. In general, low thyroid function reduces human operating potential. According to the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists more than 27 million Americans have thyroid problems. A key variable in the recent epidemic of thyroid dysfunction is exposure to radioactivity.
The 1986 Chernobyl Nuclear power plant accident caused a great number of malfunctioning thyroids and a ten-fold increase in thyroid cancer in twelve adjacent countries after the gas cloud containing radioactive iodine-131 spread over the region.
Even if there were never another nuclear power plant accident, their routine operations release radioactive Iodine-131, which has been documented to cause hypothyroidism and thyroid cancer.
Two reports from 2009 by the Radiation and Public Health Project document the health impact of radioactive Iodine-131 as released from the normal operation of nuclear power plants. The first report discusses the nearly double rate of hypothyroidism in newborns near the Indian Point nuclear reactors (30 miles north of New York City) compared to the U.S. rate. The second article details the incidence of thyroid cancer in an area of Pennsylvania, New Jersey and southern New York, a region that has 16 nuclear power reactors.
The following report is an examination of the high rate of hypothyroidism in newborns near the Indian Point reactors in New York state. From 1997 to 2007, in the 20 mile radius around the plant there was a 92% higher rate of hypothyroidism than the overall U.S. rate.
Radiation and Public Health Project
November 25, 2009 Available online at:
- (Note: Numbers in the text refer to references at the end)
BACKGROUND – HYPOTHYROIDISM AND RADIATION EXPOSURE
- Hypothyroidism is a disorder of the thyroid gland marked by low levels of thyroid hormone (thyroxine) and high levels of thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH).
“For years, scientists have established a causal relationship between radiation exposure and hypothyroidism. In particular, radioactive iodine (which seeks out the thyroid gland, and destroys cells) is linked with the disease.
“Residents of the Marshall Islands were exposed to high levels of fallout from atomic bomb tests during the 1950s. Subsequent studies documented a number of Marshallese children with hypothyroidism, also known as cretinism. Because there was no treatment for the disease at the time, and because thyroid hormone is critical to physical and mental growth, these children often were dwarfs suffering from mental retardation.
“Low doses of radioactive iodine have also been linked with high hypothyroidism rates. In the nine months after the Three Mile Island accident in 1979, there were 9 cases of the disease among Pennsylvania newborns. Eight of the 9 were babies born to the east (downwind) of the Three Mile Island plant.
SCREENING NEWBORNS FOR HYPOTHYROIDISM, AND RISING RATES
Hypothyroidism can be controlled by proper administration of thyroid hormone to the patient. Because of the vital role played by the thyroid gland in physical and mental development of the young, newborns have been screened for the disease for many years. The practice became widespread in the late 1970s with the invention of a technique that only requires drawing a single drop of blood from the baby’s heel.
“All 50 U.S. states now have mandatory newborn screening programs for a variety of disorders, including hypothyroidism. National rates have been rising during the past several decades. One recent medical journal article documented a 73% rise in the U.S. rate from 1987 to 2002.(1) This trend is parallel to the sharp increase in the U.S. thyroid cancer (all ages) rate, which rose 155% from 1980 to 2006. It is unclear whether the increase in newborn hypothyroidism is due to better detection or other factors.
HYPOTHYROIDISM IN NEWBORNS NEAR INDIAN POINT
In New York State, mandatory screening for newborn hypothyroidism began in 1978. An article by administrators of the program showed that the state rate rose 138% from 1978 and 2005.(1)
“Because U.S. atomic bomb tests above the ground ceased in 1963, and all tests ceased in 1992, the only current source of environmental radioactive iodine is emissions from nuclear power plants. The oldest and largest plant in New York State is Indian Point. One reactor at the site ran from 1962-1974, while the other two started in 1973 and 1976.
“According to official records maintained by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Indian Point emitted the 5th highest amount of airborne radioactive iodine of all U.S. nuclear plants from 1970-1993. The Indian Point total of 17.5 curies exceeds the official total of 14.2 released during the Three Mile Island accident in 1979.(2)
“Four New York counties flank Indian Point, and nearly all residents of these counties live within 20 miles of Indian Point. The New York State Newborn Screening Program provided numbers of newborn hypothyroidism cases for each of these counties for each year between 1997 and 2007.
“Results of this screening program show that the 1997-2007 four-county newborn hypothyroidism rate was 92.4% greater, or nearly double, the U.S. rate, based on 208 confirmed cases in the 11-year period. Each county’s rate exceeds the national rate, and both Rockland and Westchester rates were more than double the U.S. rate. The highest rates are in the most recent years; the 2005-2007 local rate was 151.4% above the U.S. rate.
Rates of newborn hypothyroidism in counties closest to the Indian Point nuclear plant are roughly double the U.S. rate. While many factors may account for this pattern, none are obvious. The fact that Indian Point has released more radioactive iodine into the air than most U.S. nuclear plants suggests that these releases may represent one causal factor.
“Results are consistent with the recent journal article showing the local rate of thyroid cancer is 66% greater than the U.S. rate.(3) Exposure to radioactive iodine raises risk of both thyroid cancer and hypothyroidism.
“As the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission considers a proposal to extend the Indian Point licenses for 20 years, it is important that information such as local rates of newborn hypothyroidism be made available to the public and to decision makers.”
1. Katherine B. Harris and Kenneth A. Pass. Increase in congenital hypothyroidism in New York State and in the United States. Molecular Genetics and Metabolism, Volume 94, Issue 1, May 2008, p. 140.
2. J. Tichler, K. Doty, and K. Lucadamo. Radioactive Materials Released from Nuclear Power Plants, 1993 Report. NUREG/CR-2907. Upton NY: Brookhaven National Laboratory, 1995. Nuclear plants with highest 1970-1993 airborne emissions of Iodine-131 and particulates are Dresden IL (97.22 curies), Oyster Creek NJ (77.05), Millstone CT (32.80), Quad Cities IL (26.95), and Indian Point NY (17.50).
3. Joseph J. Mangano. Geographic Variations in U.S. Thyroid Cancer Incidence and a Cluster Near Nuclear Reactors in New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania. International Journal of Health Services, Volume 39, Issue 4, October 2009, pp. 643-661.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
- The 2009 medical journal article excerpt which follows shows further documentation of the health impact on people living in the area of nuclear reactors.
CLUSTER NEAR NUCLEAR REACTORS IN NEW JERSEY, NEW YORK, AND
International Journal of Health Services, vol. 39, no 4. pp 643-661
16 pages, including references. Available online at:
Thyroid cancer incidence is increasing more rapidly than any other malignancy in the U.S. (along with liver cancer), rising nearly threefold from 1980 to 2006. Improved diagnosis has been proposed as the major reason for this change by some, while others contend that other factors also account for the increase. Among U.S. states, 2001-2005 age-adjusted thyroid cancer incidence rates vary from 5.4 to 12.8 per 100,000. County-specific incidence data available for the first time document that most U.S. counties with the highest thyroid cancer incidence are in a contiguous area of eastern Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and southern New York. Exposure to radioactive iodine emissions from 16 nuclear power reactors within a 90 mile radius in this area as a potential etiological factor of thyroid cancer is explored; these emissions are likely a cause of rising incidence rates.
From 1980 to 2006, annual U.S. thyroid cancer incidence rose nearly threefold, from 4.33 to 11.03 cases per 100,000 (age adjusted to the 2000 U.S. standard population). This increase has been steady, rising in 22 of 26 years, and has been most pronounced since the early 1990s.(1) Along with liver/bile duct cancer, incidence of thyroid cancer has experienced the greatest increase of any type of malignancy (Appendix 1). Temporal trends during this period were consistent (between +137% and +181%) for males, females, blacks, and whites. Rates have risen markedly for all age groups except for children and the very old (Appendix 2). The expected annual number of newly diagnosed U.S. thyroid cancer cases has reached 37,340. Improvements in treatment have raised survival rates; by 2006, the prevalence of U.S. thyroid cancer survivors was 410,404, and is increasing by more than 20,000 each year.
“This significant and largely unexpected rise in U.S. thyroid cancer incidence is consistent with reports of similar increases in many other developed nations, including Scotland, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, the Czech Republic, Switzerland, Australia, England, Wales, and Canada. (2-11) A recent study concluded that the rise in U.S. thyroid cancer incidence is a function of improved diagnostic techniques, especially for papillary malignancies, which account for the large majority of thyroid cancer cases.(12) Another report contradicts this conclusion, contending that improved detection only accounts for a portion of the increase, and other factors should be explored.(13)
“A frequently employed means of understanding reasons for disease patterns is that of geographic variation. Studies of U.S. cancer incidence and mortality at the state, county, congressional district, and state economic area levels have been made.(14-17) ‘Cancer mapping’ techniques can be useful in generating etiological hypotheses.(18) While variations in cancer rates are often due to risk factors, screening rates, and effectiveness of treatments, some conclude that cancer is often caused by environmental factors.(19)
“The first national U.S. cancer incidence data base can be particularly helpful in studying low-incidence cancers with relatively low mortality rates. (20-21) Thyroid cancer is relatively uncommon (2-3% of incident cases in the U.S.) and has one of the highest survival rates of any cancer, making mortality data of little use.
“There have been few attempts to assess geographic differences in thyroid cancer incidence. However, at least two reports have documented a wide variation between nations.(22-23) One of these (23) cited the many studies that document sensitivity of the thyroid gland to radiation-induced oncogenesis from exposure to radioiodine isotopes. Affected populations include survivors of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombs and Nevada, Semlja, and Marshall Island bomb tests, along with the Chernobyl accident.
“The purpose of this report is to compare thyroid cancer incidence rates across U.S. states and counties, to identify any potential causes of rapid rises in the past several decades.” (note: numbers refer to references in the complete article.)
Book on Radio-protective Foods:
Radiation Protective Foods; How to Shield Yourself from Low Level Radiation
by Sara Shannon, Author House, available 2014 at: www.amazon.com
- “Nuclear power is unacceptable because it unavoidably inflicts cancer and genetic injury on people. It is mass, random, premeditated murder.”
Dr. John Gofman MD, PhD
Professor Emeritus, Berkeley
Associate Director of Lawrence
Radiation Laboratory 1963-1969
Medical Physicist, author of 200 articles
co-discoverer of plutonium
- “Health effects of low-level radiation include the induction of cancer, genetically determined ill health, developmental abnormalities, and some degenerative diseases.”
Nuclear Regulatory Commission
Report, December 1989
- “There is hope we can achieve a healthier future for ourselves…provided that we are willing to learn from our mistakes (i.e. nuclear power).”
Ernest J. Sternglass
Retired Professor Emeritus of
University of Pittsburgh
Author of Secret Fallout
(free download: www.radiation.org)