It is a little known fact amongst members of the public that people who were alive, and particularly, who were in childhood, during the late l940s, the 1950s, and into the l960s, were subjected involuntarily to multiple radioactive fallout exposures right here in the United States. Even worse, these radioactive fallout exposures added on top of one another, coming from several sources.
If one were to question a cross section of the public, chances are that few people would be aware of the fact that Nevada Test Site (NTS) fallout drifted across many portions of the United States. Adding to those NTS fallout exposures which began in l951 were further radioactive clouds from global fallout- fallout from atomic tests conducted in the l950s in the Marshall Islands, Chinese tests, and nuclear tests conducted in the former Soviet Union in the early l960s.
Most people are aware of the Three Mile Island (TMI) nuclear reactor accident and its resulting offsite radiation emissions which released an estimated 12-15 curies of I-131 (radioactive iodine) onto surrounding communities.
These exposures have been followed by reports of health problems in TMI exposed populations, by questions as to the validity of “official” I-131 release estimates, and inquiries as to whether other radioactive substances were also released. The Three Mile Island accident woke many Americans up to the possibility of health hazards of environmental radiation exposure from nuclear facilities close to home.
I now ask the reader to sit down- the following figures are shocking. Twelve to fifteen curies of I-131 is bad enough, particularly when exposures were suffered by infants and children, during their most radiosensitive period of life. Now try somehow to conceive of the fact that the Nevada Test Site atomic tests released 150 million curies of I-131, which deposited throughout many portions of the US, and into Canada. Add to that the 8 billion curies of I-131 from US tests conducted in the Marshall Islands in the l950s, some of which drifted over the US, and the 12 billion curies of I-131 which were released in the early 1960s from tests in the former Soviet Union. Add to that releases from individual former Atomic Energy Commission sites such as Oak Ridge, Hanford (released 900,000 curies of I-131), Savannah River, Idaho National Engineering Lab and others, all part of the Manhattan Project’s atomic bomb building factory, for those who lived within the downwind areas of these sites. Then, once again, add to that staggering total, exposures to other radioactive substances within fallout which are known to be health harming (or, “biologically significant”).
Perhaps the most disturbing part of this picture is the ethical/human rights issue involved. We have the right to expect a proper and adequate response from our government for these government-caused involuntary exposures and the painful health problems which may have resulted from these exposures. We should, at the very least, demand full disclosure of the extent of exposures- that is, our government should provide to us our added doses, and translation of these combined doses into health risk. This, at a very minimum.
The national media has paid much attention to the unprecedented efforts bythe Department of Energy (DOE) to gain compensation for certain nuclear workers who suffered exposures on the job which have resulted in health problems. I applaud Secretary Richardson, DOE Secretary, for doing the right thing for at least some of the nuclear workers.
And, now it is time for the public to know that one did not have to be a nuclear worker to receive significant, health damaging, combined exposures to radioactive substances, in this case, contained within fallout. Anyone who was alive during the period of atmospheric testing at the Nevada Test Site, in the Marshall Islands, and during Chinese and Russian tests, got the combined exposures to the range of radioactive substances which were airborne and deposited within the US.
If you were in childhood during that period of time, you were dosed even more than an adult due to increased radiation uptake of a developing child. If you drank milk (whether cow’s or goat’s milk), your dose was substantially increased over that which you inhaled or ingested due to I-131 deposits on your food. Some peoples’ exposures, when the doses are added, were truly substantial, some peoples’ were not as high. Right now, the public has no idea what their true dose from these combined radioactive substances was, or what health risk these fallout doses present. In fact, most Americans do not even know they were exposed. We don’t even have an effort underway by the government to calculate the doses of those at greatest health risk from combined exposures to just one of the radioactive substances, I-131.
Why hasn’t our government told us of these exposures? There is a program under development by the National Cancer Institue (NCI) to inform people of their I-131 exposures from the NTS, but that program will not provide combined I-131 doses and health risk from NTS I-131 plus other sources of exposure to the public. Neither will that program let people know their exposures to the other potentially health damaging radioactive substances released within NTS fallout.
From this NCI I-131 communications program, we will be given just one part of the picture- I-131 exposures, and just from NTS testing. There may not be translation of these I-131 NTS doses into health risk. Representative doses (not individual doses) that people may have received from just one of the radionuclides released, I-131, and from just one I-131 exposure source, NTS, are posted on the National Cancer Institute website, without health risk information. It’s a start, but this is only one small part of the big picture of fallout exposures and radiation induced disease that these exposures may have caused in this country.
Approximately $1.85 million was appropriated by Congress, thanks to the efforts of Senator Harkin’s (D-IA) office, to address fallout issues- this has turned into what is called a “feasibility” study- that is, an assessment of whether it is possible to add doses from multiple exposures, and to translate that information into health risk. Congress mandated this report to be released by last year and it still isn’t out, an obvious attempt to stall until the next administration is in power, an administration that might be far more industry friendly.
The fallout “feasibility” study will finally be released for public comment in February. This feasibility study was led by CDC (within its National Center for Enviromental Health), using experts from NCI and past DOE scientists. One question asked by these agencies, of public representatives like me is- why spend more money to provide added doses and health risk to the public? In response I ask, why hasn’t this already been done? We have endured these exposures and the health consequences that often develop from these exposures which, for some, end in death. Why do we not, at a very minimum, have the right to know the full extent of our involuntary exposures, and the health risk accompanying these exposures? I should know- I have lost my entire family to what are believed to be radiation exposure induced cancers and other exposure health effects.
It is of significance to note that there are those within the scientific community who feel that doses can be added NOW, without a dragged out “feasibility assessment”, and that health risk can be provided NOW. Why do exposed populations deserve any less? Why so much foot dragging by the government, keeping the public from essential information with direct impact upon their lives?
The reason that it is important to understand the full extent of combined exposures and health risk from multiple fallout exposures, is that people need to know whether they are at significant enough health risk from their exposures that they should be monitored and treated for radiation induced cancers and other debilitating and sometimes life threatening diseases which are plausibly linked to these exposures to I-131 or the other radionuclides released in fallout.
Some 300 radioactive substances were released from NTS atomic tests, some of which can cause cancers far more frequently lethal than thyroid cancer, which has been linked to I-131 exposure. People, once exposed, remain at lifetime risk for radiation induced cancers and other diseases linked to these exposures. Why hasn’t the public been given this essential, lifesaving information on the other radioactive substances to which we have been exposed from fallout sources?
ACTION ALERT: Now is truly the time to let the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and your representatives in Congress, know that the American public demands, at the very least, to be informed openly and honestly of the full extent of combined exposures and health risk from these exposures, from combined fallout sources. If we don’t act now, fallout exposures will become a topic which some officials will be very very glad to see “swept under the rug.”
Please contact your congressional delegations, or send an email, fax, or letter to the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, at firstname.lastname@example.org, and your communication will be forwarded to CDC and the Department of Health and Human Services.