Children and Health

Children are among the most vulnerable to - and least protected from - radiation exposure. Current "acceptable" exposure standards in the U.S. are based on "Standard Man" - i.e., a robust young male. This does not take into account the more serious effects of radiation exposure to pregnant women and children in particular, including to the unborn. Beyond Nuclear supports efforts to change these standards.



Researchers plan to study effects of Navajo Reservation uranium exposure on pregnancy and child birth

Three decades after the end of uranium mining on the Navajo Nation, researchers plan to conduct a study in response to community concerns about the effects of exposure to uranium waste on pregnancies and child development on the Navajo Nation.

The Navajo Birth Cohort Study is a three-year study on the Navajo reservation. It will provide early assessment and education on environmental and prenatal risks from exposure to environmental contaminants.

In 2009, Congress mandated and awarded money for the Navajo Birth Cohort Study. The money will support the University of New Mexico Community Environmental Health Program as it designs and conducts the study in collaboration with the Navajo Area Indian Health Services, the Navajo Division of Health, Southwest Research and Information Center and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention/Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.

Johnnye Lewis, Ph.D., director of the Community Environmental Health Program, Health Sciences Center, at the University of New Mexico, is the principal investigator in the project. She coordinates the professional research team drawn from the five agencies responsible for implementing the project.

"This particular set of funding is for Navajo, but this is not just a Navajo problem," said Lewis. "There are 10,400 abandoned uranium mine waste sites in the western U.S., many of those on tribal lands. So I think the information we gain from this study will have impacts much further reaching than just Navajo."

More information on the Navajo Birth Cohort Study is available by calling toll-free (877) 545-6775 or contacting a Clinical Liaison at the nearest IHS facility. Navaho-Hopi Observer


UN special report on Fukushima criticizes handling of radiation catastrophe, suggests positive steps forward

Anand Grover, the United Nations Special Rapporteur reports on Fukushima, some highlights:

-potassium iodine was not handled properly.

-government did not evacuate properly or communicate radiation doses and implications to the public.

-government neglected hotspots and used 20msv/year limit implying this was safe which is not.

-radiation monitoring stations did not adequately reflect exposure data. Therefore all validated data, alot being collected by private individuals, should be made public.

-provide holistic and comprehensive treatment for ALL radiation effected zones and include wider health consequences than the current health survey.

-err on side of caution and monitor health outcomes for an extensive period of time.

-allow individuals access to their health data and that of their children.

-initiate long-term monitoring of sub-contract workers at the ruined plants.

-evacuation centers did not provide adequate facilities for women with children and the disabled and elderly. Separation of families due to inadequate evacuation procedures has caused unnecessary anguish.

-government needs to strengthened food contamination monitoring.

-adopt an action plan with clear timeline to reduce contamination to 1msv per year.

-restore subsidies to all evacuees so they can make proper decisions about whether to return or leave.

-government ensure that TEPCO is held financially accountable and that taxpayers are not.

-ensure participation of effected people, particularly vulnerable groups during all parts of decision-making process, including health services and decontamination. This is not currently being done.

-implement the “act on protection and support for children, and other victims of the Tepco disaster” which was enacted in June, 2012. This act provides a framework for those affected by the disaster and provides opportunity to enlist affected people in decision-making. video


Uranium Exposure Linked to High Lupus Rates in Community Living Near a Former Refinery

High rates of systemic lupus erythematosus have been linked to living in proximity to a former uranium ore processing facility in Ohio, according to new research findings presented this week at the American College of Rheumatology Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C. Science Daily. Cincinnati Children's blog.


Cancer study around nuclear facilities to move forward

The US NRC has announced that a study examining cancers around NRC-licensed facilities will move forward through the National Academy of Sciences. The study will be conducted according to study designs set forth in the report Analysis of Cancer Risks in Populations Near Nuclear Facilities: Phase I. Beyond Nuclear has released a statement to the press outlining our expectations and the necessity for conducting such a study. When the Phase I report was released, Beyond Nuclear, along with several other citizens and interest groups, submitted comments to NAS. Phase II of the study will focus on seven pilot sites - San Onofre, CA; Millstone and Haddam Neck, CT; Dresden, IL; Oyster Creek, NJ; Nuclear Fuel Services, Erwin, TN; and Big Rock Point, MI. The final phase could expand to multiple US nuclear sites.

The Phase I report recognizes many of the shortcomings of prior health studies including the imperfection of relying on data from the atomic bomb exposures in Japan, and investigation of cancer deaths only rather than examining incidence.

In general, Beyond Nuclear supports the case-control study as outlined by the NAS phase one report but NOT the ecologic study if it contains dose estimates which rely on industry data or if it includes adults. In general, a case-control study of childhood cancer will be the most scientifically defensible and probably the least expensive, especially if assumed doses to children rely on place of birth rather than any dose derived from industry data. The Phase I report recognizes the daunting task of reconstructing doses for individuals (rather than whole groups of people) using industry effluent or monitoring data and the impossibility of doing this consistently.

Dose estimates are not necessary to perform a health assessment, and if based on bad data, may actually act to obscure the truth. If a dose assessment is to be performed it should be de-coupled from an epidemiological assessment and done as a separate investigation. This holds true for environmental contamination assessments as well.

Viable, scientifically independent and defensible studies can be conducted based on many of the principles and methods detailed in the NAS Phase I report. But clearly, some of the Phase I report assumptions must be abandoned in order to obtain a scientifically supportable and publicly acceptable picture of cancer risks around nuclear facilities.

Beyond Nuclear is concerned that, based on recent statements by nuclear proponents, the industry will force the study to start with the assumption that no health effects will be found. This assumption, is itself based on incomplete, inaccurate or inappropriate industry-generated data and exposure assumptions. This methodology creates a circular logic with an inescapable, and ultimately unsubstantiated, conclusion that radioactive effluent carries very little health risk, an assumption questioned in several health studies including ones from Germany and France. When, as in the case of these two studies in Europe, increased risk of disease is found, and the previous assumption was that the radiation exposure was too low to cause this risk, this increased risk is left with no explanation. In fact, the assumption that radiation wasn’t the cause should never have been made in the first place.


Deception in Sieverts: how a measure of radiation damage can actually be used to hide damage

According to a research letter published this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), levels of internal cesium contamination after Fukushima are “low…much lower than those reported in studies years after the Chernobyl incident”.  However, longer-term, internal exposure to even low levels of cesium can cause a range of diseases and pre-disease conditions, including cancer. The contamination levels found in the people examined in this research are within this range of concern.

For this letter to the editor (Tsubokura, et al.) researchers used actual counts of gamma radiation coming from people’s bodies. Roughly, this count per second of gamma (given in the unit Becquerels or Bq) is then divided by the person’s weight, given in kilograms (kg).  This gives a whole body count that is used to derive the amount of radioactive cesium inside the person.  While not entirely a direct measurement, fewer assumptions and estimates are associated with Bq/kg than with the more highly favored Sievert (Sv).

The Sievert is an estimate of radiation damage based on a number of assumptions (not all of which are correct or applicable to any specific individual) and can end up hiding health damage depending on how it is used.  In this letter, the researchers claim that, even though some cesium concentrations were as high as 196.5 Bq/kg, just one person had an estimated dose above 1.0 millisievert (mSv) – a dose that is considered low by nuclear experts. That dose was 1.07 mSv.

However, in the early 2000s, a medical doctor in Belarus, Yuri Bandajevski, examined 3000-4000 tissue samples from approximately 400 deceased individuals. Disease or pre-disease conditions were compared to radioactive cesium contamination levels (in Bq/kg) of those same individuals. He replicated his results in animals and also examined a number of living people. There were strong associations between (pre-) pathologies observed, and contamination levels in Bq/kg, across all study subjects.

Bandajevski says “We should pay particular attention to the fact that the presence of even relatively small amounts of Cs-137 in children from 10-30Bq/kg…leads to a doubling in the number of children with electrocardiographic disorders.” Cesium-137 can cause “…in relatively small doses (20-30 Bq/kg); a breach of the regulatory processes in the body. This contributes to the emergence of pathological processes and diseases. This emergence is based on the latent genetic predisposition due to mutagenic action, including the same Cs-137, on gametes of the parental generation.”

For adults the concentration of cesium in the Tsubokura letter ranges from 2.3 to 196.5 Bq/kg. 200 Bq/kg, in a pregnant woman can result in fetal death according to the Belarus studies. For children, the concentration of cesium ranges from 2.8 to 57.9 Bq/kg, which is within the range of concern shown, including impacts on the heart and hormone imbalance shown in the Belarus studies.

Therefore, to imply that internal cesium contamination at the levels found after Fukushima are low and of little concern, doesn’t account for what previous research has demonstrated based on the Bq/kg measurement. And while nuclear experts and proponents can claim that 1 millisievert is a “small” amount, it is obviously well within the range that can cause health problems. These health problems can be compounded with continued exposure, to even small amounts of cesium, across generations, indicating that the longer someone stays in a contaminated area, eats contaminated food and/or raises a family in these conditions, the more damage will accumulate and the more, even what were once considered small doses, will have great detriment on health.

In this way, the Sievert as a unit of damage is obviously not precise or foolproof enough to accommodate the many natural variations among humans and exposure scenarios. It can, in fact, lead to misleading assessments about just how dangerous exposure to radioactivity is. A more direct measurement like Bq/kg equated with disease is, at least for cesium, a much truer representation of damage.