Sunday, June 7, 2009

Cold War's Deaths Still Being Counted


Radioactive Fallout from nuclear tests spread across entire U.S.

From 1950 through 1963, thousands of ever-more powerful nuclear bombs exploded. You would think we would have noticed something like that, but the explosions were merely "tests" in "isolated" areas, like Nevada, U.S.A. No cities were blown away. Nobody died... until later.

On Feb. 28, 2002, USA Today reported on an unreleased federal study blaming fallout from worldwide nuclear bomb testing for at least 15,000 cancer-related deaths and more than 20,000 non-fatal cancers in U.S. residents born since 1951.

While some members of Congress have criticized the Department of Health and Human Services for delaying the release of the report begun in 1998, another study completed -- and released -- in 1997, showed how the 90 U.S. nuclear bomb tests conducted at the Nevada Test Site (NTS) during the 1950s and 1960s spread radioactive iodine-131 fallout across the entire country.

The 1997 National Cancer Institute report, "Estimated Exposures and Thyroid Doses Received by the American People from Iodine-131 in Fallout Following Nevada Atmospheric Nuclear Bomb Tests," showed that depending on their age at the time of the tests, where they lived, and what foods they consumed, particularly milk, Americans were exposed to varying levels of I-131 for about two months following each of the 90 tests. Because I-131 accumulates in the thyroid gland, the report raised concerns that the fallout could eventually cause thyroid cancer in adults who were exposed as children.

Fact Sheet on Thyroid Cancer
Iodine-131 -- Thyroid Disease Glossary
Answers to Questions About Thyroid Cancer

According to the report, the thyroid of every person living in the U.S. during nuclear testing -- about 160 million people -- received an average does of about 2 rads of I-131, with maximum doses of up to 300 rads. By comparison, children undergoing a diagnostic thyroid scan in the 1950s received 200 to 300 rads. Today, a thyroid scan delivers from 0.4 to 4 rads to the thyroid.

The NCI report showed that, in general, persons living in states to the north and east of the Nevada test site received the highest doses. Midwestern states including Colorado, Idaho, Utah, Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa and Missouri received particularly heavy doses.

US map with County-by-County I-131 Fallout Exposures

Executive Summary of NCI ReportDescribes the results in non-technical language, and lists the 24 U.S. counties with the highest average cumulative exposures from all 90 tests combined.
Interestingly, Nevada counties received relatively low doses. Scientists concluded that the force of the atomic blasts carried the I-131 so high into the atmosphere that it was carried by the jet stream completely over Nevada before settling in states to the north and east.

Most children aged 3 months to 5 years probably received three to seven times the average dose for the population in their county, because they drank more milk than adults, and because their thyroids were smaller. By contrast, most adults probably received two to four times less than the average county dose.

Estimated I-131 Dosage CalculatorDetermine an individual's estimated total thyroid dose of I-131 from each nuclear test or series of tests compiled by date of birth.

Testimony on Thyroid Exposure Received from Iodine-131The testimony of Dr. Richard D. Klausner, M.D. Director, National Cancer Institute National Institutes of Health U.S. Department of Health and Human Services before the Senate Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies October 1, 1997.

According to cancer researchers, persons exposed to the I-131 fallout would face an increased risk of contracting thyroid cancer at some time during their lifetimes. While thyroid cancer is typically rare and easily treatable, doctors estimated that I-131 fallout could result in an additional 120,000 cases and about 6,000 deaths.

At time of its release, NCI made it clear that their 1997 report did not attempt to measure fallout from nuclear testing conducted in the former Soviet Union or by U.S. tests in the Pacific.

According to USA Today, the unreleased HHS report will show that more fallout from Soviet testing than previously thought possible reached the United States. Chances are, says USA Today, the report will conclude that every person born in America since 1951 has been exposed to radioactive fallout from nuclear testing.

Jerald Terwilliger
National Vice Chairman
American Cold War Veterans, Inc
"We Remember"