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For Immediate Release
March 14, 2011


Contact: Joseph J. Mangano

Officials Must Monitor Radiation, Disease Trends, Especially in Children and Unborn

March 14, 2011 - The meltdowns of several nuclear reactors in Japan means that public health officials must measure changes in disease and death rates that are known  to be linked with radiation exposure, and make this information publicly available.

Children and the unborn experience the most immediate changes to health from exposure to radiation released by the Japanese reactors.  Among the conditions that must be monitored are:

- Premature and low weight births
- Birth defects
- Still births (fetal deaths)
- Infant deaths
- Spontaneous abortions (miscarriages)
- Infant leukemia and cancer
- Newborn hypothyroidism (under-active thyroid)

“What harm we can expect to occur from the Japanese nuclear plant emissions has been well-documented in the people, animals, birds, and plants that were exposed to fallout to Chernobyl,”  says Janette Sherman MD, an internist and toxicologist.  Sherman is the author of numerous journal articles and books on risks to health from exposure to toxic agents including radiation.  She is the editor of the 2010 book Chernobyl: Consequences of the Catastrophe for People and the Environment, published by the New York Academy of Sciences.  Based on over 5,000 studies, the book’s authors estimated that 985,000 people died as a result of the 1986 Chernobyl meltdown.

While all humans exposed to radiation suffer harm, the fetus, infant, and child are much more susceptible than adults for two reasons.  First, the immune system in the young is underdeveloped, and less able to repair damage from radiation exposure.  Second, young cells are dividing very rapidly, and a cell damaged by radiation in a fetus or infant is much more likely to result in a birth defect or cancer than in an adult.

Studying short-term changes in the health of the fetus and infant should be accompanied by a series of other actions:

1. Monitor Changes in Adult Health.  Damage from radiation exposure may not occur as rapidly in adults.  For example, cancers may not be diagnosed for years after exposure.

2. Monitor Radiation Levels in the Environment.  Over 100 radioactive chemicals not found in nature are created only in nuclear reactors and weapons tests.  Data on how much of these chemicals escaped from reactors must be readily available to the public.

3. Monitor Radiation Levels in Bodies.  Humans absorb radiation from reactor emissions via inhalation, food, and water.  Measurements of how much radiation is absorbed must be made available to those evaluated, and over-all information must be made available to the public.  Numerous studies measuring levels of Strontium-90 (one of the 100-plus chemicals only in reactors and bomb fallout) in baby teeth have been conducted, as have studies of Cesium-137 children in the Chernobyl area.

4. Conduct Studies Close to and Far From Stricken Reactors.  Radiation can travel long distances; for example, Chernobyl fallout was measured in detectable quantities throughout Europe and the U.S. in 1986.  Reports thus far indicate that the Japanese releases are detectable 100 miles from the meltdown.

5. Conduct Studies of Workers.  Nuclear plant workers must be monitored because they probably receive the largest doses of radiation from the plant’s nuclear power source.

6. Study High and Low Doses.  Any health studies should include not just those exposed to the highest levels of radiation, as low doses also cause harm.  The blue ribbon Committee for the Biological Effects of Ionizing Radiation (BEIR) consisting of health and radiation experts issued its 7th and latest report in 2005.  Based on hundreds of scientific articles, the BEIR committee concluded that there is no dose of radiation below which there is no harm.

The Radiation and Public Health Project (RPHP) is an organization of scientists and health professionals founded in 1985.  It is the only U.S. group dedicated to professional research of health hazards of exposure from nuclear weapons and nuclear reactors.  Its members have published 27 medical journal articles and 7 books, and have conducted the only study of radiation in bodies of Americans living near nuclear plants (Strontium-90 in 5,000 baby teeth).  For more about RPHP, please visit www.radiation.org