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Tooth Fairy Project
Telling the truth about nukes
I n 1996’s The Making of the Atomic Bomb , author Richard Rhodes details plans by Enrico Fermi, Edward Teller, and Robert Oppenheimer in the spring of 1943 to use “radioactive materials bred in a nuclear reactor as a weapon of war.”
The idea was to poison the German food supply and the three fathers of the A-Bomb were thinking radioactive strontium “appears to have the greatest promise” to realize their goal. Oppenheimer wrote, “We should not attempt a plan unless we can poison food sufficient to kill a half a million men.”
Radioactive strontium does not exist in nature. It only comes to be through human induced nuclear fission. Like calcium, radioactive strontium entering the human body will concentrate in bones and teeth. Strontium 90 (Sr-90) has a radioactive life of nearly 300 years.
A recent study by the New York City-based Radiation and Public Health Project found that, over the past two decades, Strontium-90 has found its way into baby teeth, most likely through air, water, and food poisoned by the nation’s commercial nuclear power reactors.
The study reported that Sr-90 was present in higher concentrations in baby teeth from kids born close to six nuclear power stations. The study, “An unexpected rise in strontium-90 in U.S. deciduous teeth in the 1990s,” appeared in the Science of the Total Environment (December 20, 2003). Deciduous teeth are commonly known as baby teeth.
The Radioactive and Public Health Project (RPHP) has been carrying out its Tooth Fairy Project since 1996. The group collects baby teeth and tests them for the presence of Strontium-90, following up on work done in the 1960s that found rising amounts of this highly dangerous radioactive chemical in milk subsequent to above-ground explosions of increasingly more powerful nuclear weapons.
Scientists, such as Linus Pauling, and concerned mothers, organized a public campaign against this worldwide contamination that led to the Test Ban Treaty of 1964. The RPHP reported that two federal government studies of human bones found “a dramatic decline in the mid and late 1990s”—after the atmospheric bomb tests stopped—of Sr-90 in the bones compared to earlier years. A baby teeth study in St. Louis found a similar decline during that same time period.
In its current study the RPHP tested 2,089 baby teeth. Most of the teeth were from children born in the 1980s and 1990s, though some were from as far back as 1954. The majority of the teeth were from five states: California, Florida, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania. This was in great part because a few years ago the RPHP, with the assistance of actor Alec Baldwin, “sent out nearly 100,000 letters appealing for tooth donations to families with children age 6-17,” according to the RPHP. These letters went out to California, Florida, and New York, with Baldwin’s financial support.
most dramatic and unexpected finding in this report,” the RPHP
stated, “is the reversal after the late 1980s declines in average
Sr-90 concentration. We observed a 48.5 percent higher concentration
in 1994-1997 births over 1986-1989 births…a trend consistent
for each of the five states, and counties in these states near nuclear
reactors included in this study.”
Scientific experts (except perhaps those employed by the nuclear establishment) agree that Sr-90 from atmospheric bomb testing present in the environment had decayed to negligible levels by about 1980. Why then the dramatic increase found in the RPHP study?
The authors looked at seven other possible sources of Sr-90 in the U.S.:
- the 1986 Chernobyl disaster
- high level nuclear waste
- academic reactors
- nuclear subs
- nuclear weapons plants
- below ground nuclear weapons tests
- reprocessing nuclear fuel
They concluded that radioactive pollution from these sources either was negligible or had ceased too long ago to provide an explanation.
“The only other source of Sr-90,” the study’s authors asserted, “that can explain this steady dramatic rise in the 1990s is emissions from nuclear power reactors.” The authors noted that electrical generation by U.S. commercial nuclear plants rose 37.5 percent from 1986-1989 compared to 1994-1997, according to a 2001 U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission report.
The study’s second major finding “is that counties located within 40 miles of each of six nuclear reactors have consistently higher Sr-90 levels than other counties in the same state.” For example, baby teeth tested from Putnam, Rockland, and Westchester counties in New York—near the notorious Indian Point nukes —had concentrations of Sr-90 35.8 percent higher than teeth tested from the rest of the state. The statistical probability of this being due to random chance is 1 in 1,000, according to RPHP calculations.
Similarly, kids’ teeth in the three south Florida counties of Indian River, Martin, and St. Lucie, located near the St. Lucie reactors, showed levels of Sr-90 53.8 percent higher than teeth from the rest of the Sunshine State.
“A third major finding,” the RPHP reported “is that Sr-90 concentrations vary geographically. Children from Pennsylvania (most near Potts- town, close to Philadelphia) who donated teeth had the highest average Sr-90 of the five states studied. Pottstown lies within 70 miles of 11 operating (and 2 closed) reactors, a concentration unmatched in the U.S. California, especially areas not close to nuclear reactors, is the state with the lowest average Sr-90. There are only four nuclear reactors on the entire west coast in operation since 1992, compared to dozens in the northeast.”
The study’s authors concluded, “At present (pending more detailed study), nuclear power reactors appear to be the most likely source explaining the recent unexpected rise in Sr-90 concentrations, and elevated Sr-90 levels nearest the plants.”
Licenses To Kill
T he scientific activists at the Radiation and Public Health Project have produced dozens of studies demonstrating the link between “low level radiation” and human diseases. Dr. Ernest Sternglass’s 1981 book, Secret Fallout: From Hiroshima To Three Mile Island , was a pioneering work in this field. His future RPHP collaborator, Dr. Jay Gould, followed up on this work with 1990’s Deadly Deceit: Low-Level Radiation, High Level Coverup , and 1996’s The Enemy Within: The High Cost of Living Near Nuclear Reactors . In the latter book, Gould and Sternglass, along with RPHP members Joseph Mangano and William McDonnell, demonstrate through exhaustive epidemiological studies that U.S. women living within 50 miles of nuclear reactors had statistically significant higher rates of breast cancer mortality.
In more recent years the RPHP has moved from epidemiological to clinical studies, focusing its work on the Tooth Fairy Project. Other studies are showing that childhood cancer incidence rates are higher near nuclear plants and that these rates—like the concentration of Sr-90 in baby teeth from children born near nukes—are on the rise.
For example, in a February 2000 paper in the Archives of Environmental Health (“Elevated childhood cancer incidence proximate to U.S. nuclear power plants”), Mangano, RPHP colleague Janet Sherman, and four others reported “cancer incidence for children less than 10 years of age who live within 30 miles of each of 14 nuclear plants in the U.S.…exceeds the national average by 12.4 percent. The 12.4 percent risk suggests that 1 in 9 cancers among children who reside near nuclear reactors is linked to radioactive emissions…. Incidence is particularly elevated for leukemia.”
This study follows an earlier one by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s SEER program that found “from 1998 to 2000, cancer incidence in children less than 15 years was 14.83 per 100,000, the highest since the SEER program was formed in 1973,” the RPRP study reported. “From 1975 to 2000 cancer rates in children rose 31.7 percent for all types of cancers, and 36.9 percent and 49.6 percent, respectively, for leukemia and brain/other cancers, which make up over half of childhood malignancies.” SEER is the CDC’s Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results program. The SEER program, the RPHP reported, “collects data in 5 states and 4 other metropolitan areas with established tumor registries, covering about 1/10 of the U.S. population.”
This RPHP study found, “Incidence for total cancers for children under 5 years during 1988 to 1997 was higher than the SEER rate near all 14 nuclear plants in our study.” In addition, the study determined “Cancer in children 5-9 for 1988 to 1997 exceeded the SEER rate for 13 of the 14 cases.” In comparing counties near nuclear plants with remaining counties in the state and adjoining states, “For each of the 6 states and combinations of states, cancer incidence for those 0-9 years in the counties near reactors was higher than in other counties in the state.”
This study cites a 2000 RPHP study that found “a link between trends in concentrations of [SR-90] and childhood cancer in Suffolk County, New York (Gould et al, “Strontium-90 in deciduous teeth as a factor in early childhood cancer,” International Journal of Health Services , 2000).”
The 14 nuclear power plants (comprising 23 nuclear reactors) cited in the 2003 study are:
- Brookhaven (a federal nuclear laboratory) and Indian Point in New York
Limerick, Peach Bottom, Susquehanna, and Three Mile Island in
- Crystal River, St. Lucie, and Turkey Point in Florida
- Millstone in Connecticut
- Hope Creek in Delaware
- Oyster Creek and Salem in New Jersey
- Seabrook in New Hampshire
- [Peach Bottom and TMI nukes, as well as the two New Jersey nukes were counted as one because of their proximity]
While the RHP has been carrying out this important work—and generating attention from the New York Times , US A Today , and National Public Radio, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission has been busy rubberstamping 20-year license renewals for old dirty nuclear plants across the nation, including some of those named above.
U.S. commercial nuclear plants were initially licensed to operate for 40 years by the NRC and its predecessor, the discredited Atomic Energy Commission. None of these nukes has been able to operate that long thus far.
The NRC has already granted 20-year license renewals for 12 nuclear plants comprising 23 nuclear reactors. The first went to Calvert Cliffs on Chesapeake Bay in March 2000. Another 10 nuke plants comprising 17 reactors have license renewals under review (the review usually takes about two years).
Twenty-one more nuke plants comprising at least 27 reactors are planning further applications through 2008. Of these 21 future applications, 5 are listed as “Not Publicly Announced,” and 3 as “Entergy Plant.” New Orleans-based Entergy Corporation owns 8 nuclear plants, including the Indian Point 2 and 3 reactors, located less than 30 miles north of midtown Manhattan. Community opposition to the continued operation of Indian Point has grown fierce since the 9-11 attacks exposed them as high security risks. Twenty million people live within 20 miles of the reactors.
Altogether these license renewal actions comprise at least 67 commercial nuclear reactors, about two- thirds of the 103 currently operating.
Thus far the NRC has approved every single license renewal application. After the owners of the infamous Millstone nukes in southeastern Connecticut filed their license renewal application on January 22, 2004, the NRC’s Neil Sheehan said of its two reactors, ages 29 and 18, “There’s no reason they can’t last 60 years,” and of course asserted the process “isn’t a rubberstamp.” Dominion Resources of Virginia, Millstone’s owner, is asking the NRC to extend Millstone 2 and 3’s operating licenses to 2035 and 2046, respectively.
Short of another catastrophic nuclear accident, if this is to change, it will only come about through the combined efforts of scientific activists like those of the Radiation and Public Health Project along with concerned citizens and community activists. The poisoning of children will only begin to stop when the nukes do.
Michael Steinberg is a veteran activist and writer. He is the author of Millstone and Me: Sex, Lies and Radiation in Southeastern Connecticut .
Z Magazine Archive
CUBAN 5 - From May 30 to June 5, supporters of the Cuban 5 will gather in Washington DC to raise awareness about the case and to demand a humanitarian solution that will allow the return of these men to their homeland.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com.
BIKES - Bikes Not Bombs is holding its 24th annual Bike- A-Thon and Green Roots Festival in Boston, MA on June 3, with several bike rides, music, exhibitors, and more.
Contact: Bikes Not Bombs, 284 Amory St., Jamaica Plain, MA 02130; 617-522-0222; mailbikesnotbombs.org; www.bikesnotbombs.org.
LEFT FORUM - The 2013 Left Forum will be held June 7-9, at Pace University in NYC.
Contact: 365 Fifth Avenue, CUNY Graduate Center, Sociology Dept., New York, NY 10016; http://www.leftforum.org/.
VEGAN FEST - Mad City Vegan Fest will be held in Madison, WI, June 8. The annual event features food, speakers, and exhibitors.
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ADC CONFERENCE - The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) holds its annual conference June 13-16 in Washington, DC, with panel discussions and workshops.
Contact: 1990 M Street, Suite 610, Washington, DC, 20036; 202-244-2990; convention @adc. org http://convention.adc.org/.
CUBA/SOCIALISM - A Cuban-North American Dialog on Socialist Renewal and Global Capitalist Crisis will be held in Havana, Cuba, June 16-30. There will be a 5-day Seminar at the University of Havana, plus visits to a co-op and educational and medical institutions.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.globaljustice center.org/.
NETROOTS - The 8th Annual Netroots Nation conference will take place June 20-23 in San Jose, CA. The event features panels, trainings, networking, screenings, and keynotes.
Contact: 164 Robles Way, #276, Vallejo, CA 94591; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.netrootsnation.org/.
MEDIA - The 15th annual Allied Media Conference will be held June 20-23, in Detroit.
Contact: 4126 Third Street, Detroit, MI 48201; http://alliedmedia.org/.
GRASSROOTS - The United We Stand Festival will be hosted by Free & Equal, June 22 in Little Rock, Arkansas. The festival aims to reform the electoral process in the U.S.
LITERACY - The National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE) will hold its conference July 12-13 in Los Angeles.
Contact: 10 Laurel Hill Drive, Cherry Hill, NJ 08003; http://namle.net/conference/.
IWW - The North American Work People’s College will take place July 12-16 at Mesaba Co-op Park in northern Minnesota. The event will bring together Wobblies from across the continent to learn skills and build one big union.
PEACESTOCK - On July 13, the 11th Annual Peacestock will take place at Windbeam Farm in Hager City, WI. The event is a mixture of music, speakers, and community for peace. Sponsored by Veterans for Peace.
Contact: Bill Habedank, 1913 Grandview Ave., Red Wing, MN 55066; 651-388-7733; email@example.com; http://www. peacestockvfp.org.
LA RAZA - The annual National Council of La Raza (NCLR) Conference is scheduled for July 18-19 in New Orleans, with workshops, presentations, and panel discussions.
Contact: NCLR Headquarters Office, Raul Yzaguirre Building, 1126 16th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20036; 202-785-1670; www.nclr.org.
ACTIVIST CAMP - Youth Empowered Action (YEA) Camp will have sessions in July and August in Ben Lomond, CA; Portland, OR; Charlton, MA. YEA Camp is designed for activists 12-17 years old who want to make a difference.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://yeacamp.org/.