Archives for category: Radiation

From the Telegraph:

A large study of mobile phone users has found no evidence that longer-term users are at an increased risk of developing brain tumours.

However, the Danish study, published in the journal BMJ Open, has been criticised as being “worthless” by fellow academics who say its methods are “seriously flawed”.

The team from the Institute of Cancer Epidemiology in Copenhagen looked at over 350,000 people who subscribed to mobile phone contracts before 1996, comparing brain tumour rates in them with non-subscribers. They looked for new diagnoses of brain tumours between 1990 and 2007.

The team concluded: “There was no association between tumours of the central nervous system or brain and long term (10 years or more) use of mobile phones.”

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But others strongly disagree.

Denis Henshaw, emeritus professor of human radiation effects at Bristol University, said the researchers had wrongly classified the 88 per cent of the Danish population who started using a mobile phone since 1996 – for whom there is no subscription information for legal reasons – as non-users.

They also removed business users from the study, who are likely to have been the heaviest users.

He concluded: “I consider the claims in the study to be worthless. This seriously flawed study misleads the public and decision makers about the safety of mobile phone use.”

Critics of such studies also point out that brain tumours tend to take decades, not years, to develop.

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From the Spokesman Review:

When there’s a funeral on the Spokane Indian Reservation, Harold Campbell puts on his grave-digging hat, collects his tools and heads to the cemetery.

Over the past 30 years, the volunteer gravedigger has helped prepare the final resting spots for hundreds of the tribe’s members. Death is a familiar presence to Campbell, who sits with grieving families and blesses burial plots with the fragrant smoke of sage and sweetgrass. Yet one aspect troubles him: Too many Spokane Indians die from cancer.

“I watch them die, young and old,” Campbell said. “I think it’s caused by the radiation.”

The radiation is from the Northwest’s only open-pit uranium mines – an all-but- forgotten chapter of Washington’s Cold War history. Uranium ore was blasted out of the Spokane Reservation’s arid hillsides and sold to the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission. The truckloads of radioactive material that rumbled daily through the reservation helped build the country’s nuclear weapons arsenal.

The mines closed 30 years ago, but they’ve left a complex legacy of pride, patriotism and radioactive pollution on the 157,000-acre reservation west of Spokane.

After uranium deposits were discovered in the 1950s, entire families drew paychecks from the mines. The work seemed part of a greater cause, a strike against communism. And it brought a flash of prosperity to the impoverished reservation through steady paychecks and mining royalties.

But now there are troubling questions. Many workers labored without adequate safety gear. They brought home dust on their clothing, exposing their families to radiation and heavy metals. Uncovered ore trucks spilled radioactive rock, creating “hot spots” along the highway bisecting the reservation.

With each new cancer diagnosis, people wonder: Is it from the radiation?

It’s a haunting question. Bob Brisbois, the tribe’s executive director, lost five members of his extended family to cancer in a single year.

“Where did I get this cancer from? I never smoked,” Brisbois recalls his mother saying before she died of colon and bone cancer. “I would like to know where I got all this.”

Brisbois’ 40-year-old nephew had the same question. “He swam in the Spokane River below the mine,” Brisbois said. “He ate the roots and berries and wild game.” The nephew died last year of cancer that started in his bladder and spread throughout his body.

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From The Telegraph:

Mobile phones and computers with wireless internet connections pose a risk to human health and should be banned from schools, a powerful European body has ruled.

A Council of Europe committee examined evidence that the technologies have “potentially harmful” effects on humans, and concluded that immediate action was required to protect children.

In a report, the committee said it was crucial to avoid repeating the mistakes made when public health officials were slow to recognise the dangers of asbestos, tobacco smoking and lead in petrol.

The report also highlighted the potential health risks of cordless telephones and baby monitors, which rely on similar technology and are widely used in British homes.

Fears have been raised that electromagnetic radiation emitted by wireless devices can cause cancers and affect the developing brain.

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From the Philadelphia Daily News:

Philadelphia tap water has been laced with fluctuating levels of radioactive iodine since at least 2007, but city officials say they only recently learned of the problem.

Iodine-131, which has no taste or smell, is a carcinogenic isotope, but federal environmental officials apparently weren’t concerned enough to tell you that it’s in your drinking water.

The Philadelphia Water Department, now participating in a multi-agency investigation, doesn’t know how the iodine is getting into the water supply.

“There’s something unusual here and we need to figure out what’s going on,” said Chris Crockett, the department’s acting deputy commissioner of environmental services.

You may ask: Does this have anything to do with the radioactive emissions from the Fukushima Dai-ichi power plant in Japan?

The answer is no.

Although trace amounts of Iodine-131 have blown over to the United States from Japan, Philadelphia has a more serious – and mysterious – problem with an unidentified local source that predates Japan’s March nuclear disaster.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency data show that the iodine in Philly’s water has exceeded federal drinking-water limit at least nine times since 2007 at two of the city’s three water-treatment plants.

And Philadelphia’s water has the highest iodine level among dozens of water systems in the U.S. tested by the EPA since the Japanese disaster.

Water Department officials tell the Daily News that they were not aware of the data until about the time that the Japanese crisis raised concerns about nuclear particles contaminating U.S. air and rainwater, an issue that turned out to be unrelated to the iodine in Philadelphia.

The Water Department is working with state and federal environmental officials to find the local source of Iodine-131, which can cause cancer in high or prolonged doses and is believed to be responsible for thousands of thyroid cancers following nuclear-bomb tests in the Nevada desert in the 1950s and ’60s.

“It’s not the type of thing you want to hear when you have kids,” said Bettina Berg, who lives in the city’s Bella Vista section and is worried about the health of her boys, ages 4 and 20 months. “That’s insane if it’s been at least four years and they haven’t done anything about it.”

In an attempt to filter out the iodine, the Water Department is using carbon at the Queen Lane Water Treatment Plant, which, along with the Belmont Water Treatment Plant, supplies about 40 percent of the city’s drinking water. Both plants use water from the Schuylkill. Lower levels of iodine have been found at Belmont in recent years.

“We want the public to know we have all of our attention focused on this,” said department spokeswoman Joanne Dahme.

Berg and other city residents want to know why officials weren’t concerned years ago, when the levels of Iodine-131 in the city’s drinking water repeatedly exceeded the EPA’s “maximum contaminant level” – the highest level of a contaminant allowed under federal regulations.

Crockett said the test results were not shared with the Water Department in 2007. If they were, he said, the department would have begun an investigation to find the local source.

“I personally would have loved to know about it three years ago,” Crockett said. “But we only got it now.”

Victoria Binetti, associate director of the water-protection division in the EPA’s regional office, said the results of those water samples, gathered through the national network RadNet, are not necessarily shared with local water officials.

Binetti acknowledged that Philadelphia’s drinking water had exceeded federal limits for Iodine-131, but said those limits are conservative and are based on decades of constant, prolonged consumption.

“It’s a level you don’t want to exceed, but it’s considered safe,” she said of the iodine in Philadelphia’s drinking water. (See chart for the city’s peak Iodine-131 levels).

But why did it take a nuclear incident halfway around the world for officials here to realize that there is a local source of radioactive iodine?

No one seems to have an answer for that.

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From Living On Earth (portions of Bruce Gellerman’s recollections of his 1996 report on Chernobyl):

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GELLERMAN: It’s Living on Earth, I’m Bruce Gellerman. 25 years ago – April 26, 1986, at precisely 1:23 in the morning, Ukraine time – the number four reactor at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant exploded.

The graphite core of the Soviet reactor ignited and fuel rods vaporized, sending a plume of radioactivity high into the atmosphere. For nearly two days, Soviet officials denied anything had happened. Then the radiation was detected in Sweden and Russian TV news had this short announcement:

[SFX – Russian news cast…SPEAKING IN RUSSIAN; Voiceover: “An accident has happened at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant. One reactor has been damaged. The government has formed a commission of inquiry.”]

* * *

GELLERMAN: A faded mural on a vacant apartment building welcomes us to Pripyat. The town was once home to 45,000 residents – plant workers and their families. The sign reads: “The Party of Lenin Leads Us to a Communist Victory.” My guide Alexander Shevchenko deadpans an old party slogan: the people of Pripyat really did invite the friendly Atom into their homes. He laughs alone in the silence.

 * * *

GELLERMAN: But for our Geiger counter, the apartments are ghostly quiet. Plant officials delayed the evacuation of Pripyat for a day and a half. By then, Alexander says, the clouds of radioactive iodine had delivered intense doses to the town’s children.

GELLERMAN: Why did they wait 36 hours before they evacuated?

SHEVCHENKO: They waited for the order from Kremlin. They knew about the danger, but they waited for the instructions. I think it is forever – it shouldn’t be forgotten.

* * *

GELLERMAN: We’re standing at Ground Zero. Today, what remains of the melted number four reactor is entombed in a massive 24-storey sarcophagus. But even 300,000 tons of steel and concrete can’t contain the intense radiation within.

* * *

GELLERMAN: The levels on our Geiger counter double when we pointed at the sarcophagus – it’s the most radioactive building on the planet. The amount of radiation released at Chernobyl was 250 times that of the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined. After a minute here, Alexander wants to leave this place.

SHEVCHEKOV: We better get to the car.

GELLERMAN: Why’s that?

SHEVCHEKOV: Because it’s rather high. You know, I’ve been inside the sarcophagus four times.

GELLERMAN: What is it like? What does it look like inside?

SHEVCHEKOV: Wrecks. Ruins. Ruins, wrecks, and high levels of radiation. Only two minutes allowed.

* * *

GELLERMAN: The Chernobyl sarcophagus was built in seven months – a Herculean effort by some 850 thousand Soviet soldiers, so-called “liquidators.”

[SHOVELING SOUNDS]

GELLERMAN: Shovelful by shovelful, the liquidators removed the radioactive debris and erected the sarcophagus.

[SPEAKING IN RUSSIAN; Voiceover: “We were like ants. Just as some were finishing their task, others would immediately take their place. And that’s how, together, we were able to fight the radioactivity.”]

Video about Chernobyl’s “Biorobots”

DODD: What they did was heroic, you know, and I shudder at the thought of anybody ever having to work like that again. Many of these people – and you’ve seen them in the videos – went up on the roof of the Turbine Generator Hall and were basically given instructions to run out into the hall to pick up a piece of fuel or radioactive graphite, carry it 30 or 40 meters, and throw it over the wall. Oftentimes, they were limited to 10 or 15 seconds to do that – once they did that, they basically had taken a lifetime of radiation and they went back home.

* * *

GELLERMAN: But here we are – 25 years out from Chernobyl – and many people have forgotten it, and you don’t have enough money to complete your work, at least right now, and yet we’re betting on future, future, future generations to deal with this.

DODD: That’s right. I mean, this is a consequence of Chernobyl, and certainly for the 100-years lifetime of the New Safe Confinement, there’s going to be…it’s going to employ the children and the grandchildren of some of the current workers of the Chernobyl site.

* * *

GELLERMAN: Laurin Dodd is managing director of the new Chernobyl safe confinement structure. He lives just outside the evacuation zone. Author Mary Mycio has been inside the zone more than 25 times. She’s author of the book “Wormwood Forest – A Natural History of Chernobyl.”

MYCIO: The first time I went there, I was absolutely stunned to find out that it was, first of all, not this big giant dead parking lot that I’d imagined – it was really green. And that – when you get out into the wild, it’s actually…there are parts of it that are very, very beautiful.

You have the wetlands and peat lands. In one single day, I saw a herd of red deer, a herd of about 40 boars, four moose, and wolf. In the absence of human activity, it becomes a very inviting environment for wildlife.

GELLERMAN: But it’s radioactive!

MYCIO: Well they can’t tell. Radioactivity’s invisible.

GELLERMAN: But isn’t that the point? You can’t see the radiation, yet there’s been this terrible disaster there. Can’t you tell that radiation has its biological effect?

MYCIO: Well I guess you could if you did large animal studies and had, you know, random samples or comparative studies, but nobody is doing that. And…I mean, yes, you can study mice because all you would theoretically need is a couple of mouse traps and some cheese and you’ll get your sample of mice.

If you want to study, let’s say, moose, you have to do some big game hunting and it takes awhile – it’s not like they show up on command. So nobody has been providing that kind of funding right now.

GELLERMAN: But we had no gross genetic damage that we can see now. No giant insects and birds…

MYCIO: No, no, nothing like that. If there are mutations being born in the wild, they die – they get eaten by scavengers so nobody actually finds them. Nobody has identified any mutations except for these studies done on swallows where they have some…they had pigmentation damage, like albino spots on their faces.

GELLERMAN: What about the forests and the flora, the trees? Have they been affected? Can you see mutations in them?

MYCIO: Well there are places where you can see – it’s called radiomorphism, which is radioactivity affecting the orientation that the plant has and the way that it grows. So in very, very radioactive areas, you will have these kind of stunted pine trees that look more like bushes.

GELLERMAN: So now we have this largely abandoned area – when do you think people will be able to come back?

MYCIO: Oh, it depends. There are parts of the zone where people could actually live now because the lines were drawn in a very, very rough way. Other parts – the parts that are closest to the reactor – as a practical matter, never. They won’t be able to come back. Because plutonium – you have plutonium there and that’s got a half-life of 24,000 years. So unless they figure out a way to clean it up, or…I don’t know if there’s an ‘or’ to that. (Laughs). I can’t see how people could come back there in a safe way.

GELLERMAN: When I was in the zone around Chernobyl 15 years ago, I interviewed an old couple who moved back into the zone, and they’re not alone – there are a bunch of people who have moved back. Have we seen any changes in them – any biological effects?

MYCIO: Well the irony is that a lot of the people who went back – they’re doing better than people of their own age who were evacuated because the impact of radiation takes so many decades to show up that if you’re an older person, you’ll die of something else before the radiation will kill you.

And the people who were evacuated, let’s say, from these beautiful – really truly beautiful, lush wetlands – into, let’s say, the suburbs of Kiev in a high-rise apartment building…that’s a traumatic thing, and a lot of the older people had a very, very difficult time adjusting. While the people who went back – they were sort of in their old houses and, yes, there’s radiation around, but a lot of them prefer to be home. Though I would also caution that a lot of the people who live in the zone aren’t there because they have happy stories to tell.

GELLERMAN: Mary Mycio is author of “Wormwood Forest: A Natural History of Chernobyl.”

* * *

GELLERMAN: One of the, if not the saddest photo I think you’ve taken and the one that kind of has burned an image in my mind, is the one of a farmer and he’s got a tattoo of his wife on his shoulder.

ROTHBART: So his full name is Vassily Olessandrovich. I was walking through the town of Ivankiv and I heard him half-drunk, crying in his front yard, and I peeked over his fence and I thought, ‘he’s never going to let me photograph him.’ But I screwed up my courage to knock on the door and ask, and he let me in and talked to me, and we just talked for a few minutes.

And he has this tattoo of a woman – I asked him about it. And he told me that his wife had died the previous year from cancer – she died of liver cancer after a long illness. And so after she died, he tattooed her picture on his shoulder as a personal memorial. And while I was working on this new exhibit, I had my assistant Kiev do some fact-checking and she found out that Vassily has now also died. He died last year of stomach cancer, and he was 57.

GELLERMAN: You photographed a Chernobyl engineer who had worked at the plant for 24 years – I’m looking at the picture of Viktor.

ROTHBART: Yeah, Viktor Gaidak was an engineer at the plant and he continued to work for almost a decade after the 1986 accident. And then in 2004, he had colon cancer and had surgery. And one thing he told me…he told me that when he was sick with cancer, he said, ‘we sold our car to pay for the surgery,’ he said, ‘we sold our TV, our refrigerator, jewelry, everything we could.’ And then he pointed to his wife Lydia next to him and said, ‘well now my wife Lydia has cancer and there’s nothing left for us to sell.’

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From Greenpeace:

25 years after the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, residents of the area are still exposed to the radiation.

From NatureNews:

As the immediate threat from Fukushima Daiichi’s damaged nuclear reactors recedes, engineers and scientists are facing up to a clean-up process that could last for many decades, or even a century.

Experts on previous nuclear accidents say that the sheer quantity of nuclear material that needs to be removed from the site, together with the extent of the damage, makes Fukushima a unique challenge. The plant’s damaged reactors are home to just under 1,000 tonnes of nuclear fuel and thousands of tonnes of radioactive water (see graphic).

Last week, the Toshiba Corporation floated a rough proposal to clean up the site in a decade. But veterans of clean-up operations at sites such as Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania say that it will probably take much longer. The removal of the radioactive material will require a carefully planned and technologically sophisticated programme, made all the more challenging by the devastation left after partial core meltdowns and explosions.

No clean-up can begin until the reactors are stabilized. Radiation around the plant is beginning to wane, but the threat of further releases has not yet passed. On 7 and 11 April, severe aftershocks struck nearby, raising fears that the three crippled reactors could be damaged further. The Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), which manages the plant, says that no additional damage has been detected.

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From Columbia Daily Review:

One in 15 U.S. homes contains high levels of a gas that is thought to be the second-leading cause of lung cancer — after smoking — and causes more than 21,000 deaths a year.

The colorless, odorless killer is called radon, and it is the product of the breakdown of uranium in soil. The gas can seep upward into cracks and holes in the foundations of buildings, where it can accumulate. Radon also can sneak into a home through well water, and, in a small percentage of buildings, the building materials themselves can contain radon.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, radon accumulated inside a building reaches a dangerous quantity when it is measured at 4 picocuries per liter and the building’s inhabitants are exposed to the gas for years.

The risk of developing lung cancer from radon exposure is much higher for smokers.

Robert Dye, an environmental scientist with the EPA, said there is no clear profile of homes that are more likely to contain high levels of radon. The gas can occur in houses of any age and value and anywhere in the United States.

Dye said without testing your home for radon, “there’s no way to know if you have an elevated level.”

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From the New York Times:

Radioactivity levels are “at or below” safe levels in Pennsylvania rivers, state regulators said on Monday, based on water samples taken last November and December from seven rivers.

The results come at a time of growing scrutiny of the potential hazards of radioactivity and other contaminants in wastewater from natural-gas drilling. The wastewater is routinely sent to treatment plants in Pennsylvania, which then discharge their waste into rivers.

In a letter sent to the state on Monday, the federal Environmental Protection Agency noted the state’s test results, but instructed officials there to perform testing within 30 days for radioactivity at drinking-water intake plants.

It also said that all permits issued by the state to treatment plants handling this waste should be reviewed to ensure that operators were complying with the law.

The E.P.A. asked the state for data and documents so it could check whether current permits were strict enough in requiring monitoring and in limiting the type of pollution the treatment plants can release into rivers.

“E.P.A. is prepared to exercise its enforcement authorities as appropriate where our investigations reveal violations of federal law,” the letter said.

The E.P.A.’s moves follow reports in The New York Times about gas-industry wastewater with high levels of radioactivity being sent to sewage treatment plants that were not designed to remove radioactive materials. These plants then discharge the processed wastewater into rivers and streams.

The Times found that samples taken by the state in the Monongahela River — a source of drinking water for parts of Pittsburgh — came from a point upstream from the two sewage treatment plants on that river. The state has said those plants are still accepting significant quantities of drilling waste.

Because that sampling site is upstream, the discharges from those two plants are not captured by the state’s monitoring plans.

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From CNN:

The radiation emitted after just 50 minutes on a mobile phone increases the activity in brain cells, according to a new government-funded study.

The effects of that brain activity are not known, said the researchers, who called for more study.

Phones that were turned off did not create the same brain activity.

The small study, published in the Journal of American Medical Association, is the first to look specifically at how electromagnetic radiation from cell phones affects glucose metabolism, a normal function, in the brain.

“When glucose metabolism goes up, it activates cells. The findings are an indication that exposure to cell phones activate the brain much more easily than we previously thought,” said Dr. Nora Volkow, National Institutes of Health neuroscientist and lead study author.

Brain activity means that the cells are using glucose to create energy. The brain normally produces the amount of glucose it needs to function properly. But these new findings don’t tell us whether activating the cells artificially, in this case by cell phone radiation, will have a negative effect on health. Volkow says she simply doesn’t know and calls for further investigation.

Full article here.

From Edinburgh Scotsman:

CARRYING out X-rays on pregnant women and babies could increase the risk of childhood cancers, research suggests.

A study published in the British Medical Journal said the potential risk – although small – meant doctors should take extra care when using X-ray and CT scans on this group.

The results back up what has long been suspected by clinicians, which means women are always asked about the possibility of pregnancy before images are taken.

The researchers, from the University of York and the National Cancer Institute in the United States, are more concerned about the potential effects from CT scans, which use much higher doses of radiation than X-rays.

The team looked at 2,690 children with cancer and 4,858 healthy children, all born between 1976 and 1996. They found 305 children received 319 radiographic examinations while in the womb, while 170 children received 247 X-ray examinations in early infancy.

Overall, the researchers found the risk of cancer was potentially increased by 14 per cent in children exposed to X-rays in the womb, and 16 per cent for those exposed as young babies. The strongest risk appeared to be for lymphoma.

But the researchers warned that the small number of cancer cases the results were based on meant more research was needed. The study found no increased risk caused by ultrasound scans.

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From whenvironments:

An excerpt from the award-winning documentary “Exposure: Environmental Links to Breast Cancer” about the effects of radiation. Featuring Olivia Newton-John, Dr. Rosalie Bertell and Dr. Susan Love.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Houston KHOU TV: Residents of Houston neighborhood concerned about cancers, radioactive water.

Concerned residents of the Chasewood subdivision in southwest Houston told city leaders about what they feel are a high number of cancer cases in their neighborhood, and they expressed concern that the health problems may have something to do with radioactive drinking water the city pumped to their neighborhood for years. At least two members of Houston City Council said they shared residents’ concerns.

Houston Mayor Annise Parker and the city’s public works director, Daniel Krueger, attempted to calm citizens’ concerns in a neighborhood meeting, which was called after a KHOU investigation revealed the Chasewood neighborhood tested above the federal legal limit for radiation in drinking water in its most recent test in 2009.

The city took the radioactive well offline in November after KHOU began asking questions. . . . KHOU discovered the Chasewood water well’s problems date back many years. In fact, internal city records obtained through a Texas Public Information Act request reveal the well has tested at or above the federal legal limit for alpha radiation in all three of its last tests, which were performed separately in 2004, 2007 and 2009. Parker stressed that any previous failure to take action by the city took place before she took office.

Some neighborhood residents feel someone should be held accountable for their increased exposures to radiation in drinking water.

“Someone at the public works department knew about it,” Chasewood resident Denise Adams said.

“We’re not here to embarrass you we just need some honest, reliable data,” another concerned Chasewood citizen told city leaders.

At one point during the meeting, one resident read the results of a community survey which stated 37 cancer cases had been reported in the subdivision. One street, which consists of just 21 homes, reportedly had at least 14 cancer diagnoses.

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