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Cancer risk

Scientists: American public being poisoned by radiation once thought harmless

Wednesday, October 25, 2006 by: Ben Kage
Tags: cancer risk, environmental radiation, health news


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(NewsTarget) According to a report called "Science for the Vulnerable: Setting Radiation and Multiple Exposure Environmental Health Standards to Protect Those Most at Risk," released Thursday, the protection standards for cancer-causing radiation in the United States are so low, only the strongest people are protected.

"A central principle of environmental health protection -- protecting those most at risk -- is missing from much of the U.S. regulatory framework for radiation," said study co-author Arjun Makhijani, president of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research.

The federal standards that limit radiation -- such as what may be found in contaminated soil -- are based on protecting "Reference Man," a theoretical white male of Western European or North American habitat or custom, aged 20 to 30, weighing 154 pounds, and standing 5 feet 7 inches tall. Unfortunately, these standards do not apply to women and girls, who are at higher risks of cancer, especially thyroid cancer. A female infant drinking contaminated milk is 100 times more likely to contract thyroid cancer -- and a woman has a 52 percent greater chance -- than an adult male drinking the same milk. The study also found evidence that the offspring of fathers exposed to radiation around the time of conception are at an increased risk of leukemia.

"I've never known a woman to give birth to a full-grown, 154-pound 'Reference Man,'" said Mary Brune, co-founder of California-based group Making Our Milk Safe (MOMS).

The report found that cancer was not the only adverse affect resulting from radiation exposure. The tritium found in water supplies can cross the placenta of a pregnant woman and cause miscarriages and birth defects.

"These health risks are not part of regulatory considerations currently, despite the fact that tritium discharges are occurring from both nuclear power plants and some nuclear weapons facilities, such as the Savannah River Site (in South Carolina)," said Makhijani and his colleagues in a statement.

The scientists noted that official standards also ignore interactions between radioactive and chemical pollution, which can combine to magnify the risk of disease.

Although the IEER scientists noted that specialized research was needed to conclude how many Americans have been affected by the radiation risk, their findings are now the basis for a campaign mounted by politicians; health, environmental, and women's organizations; and academic specialists on the subject of terrorism, medicine and public health. The coalition is demanding President Bush order a review of radiation exposure standards by the U.S Department of Energy, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the FDA.

In an open letter to President Bush, the coalition pointed out that Reference Man does not meet with the guidelines set forth by President Clinton's Presidential Executive Order 13045 on the Protection of Children from Environmental Health Risks and Safety Risks, and that Bush seconded the order in 2003.

The IEER is proposing several solutions to the problem:

-- Using the already existing but underused concepts "maximally exposed individual" and the "critical group."
-- Dropping Reference Man and instead making the most vulnerable population subgroup the standard.
-- Increasing protection in U.S. workplaces, which is currently "five times more lax than that in Germany."
-- Extra protection measures for women who breastfeed and work in radiation-controlled areas.
-- Restrict the discharge of tritium around nuclear power and weapon sites to no more than 500 picocuries per liter of surface water. The current standard is 20,000 picocuries per liter, which the scientists note doesn't take the non-cancer health risks of tritium into account.

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