By Patrick McNamee
WESTPORT- The Radiation and Public Health Project released reports yesterday suggesting that Fairfield County residents may face greater health risks because of their proximity to the Indian Point nuclear power plant.
In a press conference, Joseph Mangano, the group's executive director, discussed the findings of its Tooth Fairy Project, as well as a study of childhood death rates because of cancer in the region.
The RPHP tested 500 baby teeth from areas surrounding Indian Point, including 32 from Fairfield County.
Test results found the highest levels of Strontium-90, a radioactive isotope associated with bone tumors, were in counties surrounding the Buchanan, N.Y., plant, including Westchester, Putnam, Orange and Rockland.
The next highest level belonged to Fairfield County.
"The government sets permissible limits of radioactivity and they say that anything below that level is harmless," Mangano said. "We are very skeptical because it is poor science. Our belief is based on informed skepticism. Many people have questioned the low dose."
The non-profit group plans an educational program to inform Fairfield County residents of potential health risks.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission states that anyone within 10 miles of a plant meltdown needs to seek shelter or evacuate. Fairfield County municipalities are 18 to 45 miles away from Indian Point.
Test results also found the four New York counties closest to Indian Point had an average of 3.78 picocuries of strontium per gram of calcium. Fairfield County had 3.45 picocuries, while New York City had 3.10.
Mangano said that childhood and adolescent death rates for cancer in Fairfield County are 4 percent above the U.S. average, but the death rate for other diseases is 20 percent below the rest of the country.
"There are 100-plus chemicals produced from the power plant. They are unstable particles and gases that are all cancer-causing and all decay; some in a short time but some take a very long time to do so," Mangano said.
The NRC does not believe the project's test findings or that its samples are enough to make definitive conclusions.
"It's very difficult to look at data in isolation," said Neil Sheehan, an NRC spokesman. "Many variables go into calculating exposure radiation. People move from place to place. People don't get food from just one location."
The NRC also says that numerous studies have examined health effects around nuclear power plants, including a report by the American Cancer Society stating cancer does not occur more often in such areas.
The NRC has previously questioned the group's studies and findings, Sheehan said.
"We've expressed a lot of concerns; about whether they're peer reviewed. Did they use a control group? Were their radiation meters calibrated correctly? These are all important factors," Sheehan said.
The Radiation and Public Health Project plans an educational campaign featuring press conferences and public forums as Indian Point's 40-year operating license comes to a close in the next few years.
"We want Connecticut to wake up. There is a lot of talk, but it is mostly in the New York area," Mangano said. "As I see it there is lots at risk with not benefit at all, just health risks."
Entergy, the plant's owner and operator, has applied for a 20-year extension on its two water-pressurized reactors, allowing one to operate until 2033 and the other until 2035.
About 40 percent to 50 percent of the power needs for New York City and Westchester County are met by Indian Point according to Entergy; it could not confirm whether Connecticut receives any power from Indian Point.