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Fukushima fallout damaged thyroid glands of California babies

Chris Busby

19th November 2013

The Fukushima catastrophe has been dismissed as a potential cause of health effects even in Japan, let alone as far away as California.

A new study of the effects of tiny quantities of radioactive fallout from Fukushima on the health of babies born in California shows a significant excess of hypothyroidism caused by the radioactive contamination travelling 5,000 miles across the Pacific. The article will be published next week in the peer-reviewed journal Open Journal of Pediatrics.

Congenital hypothyroidism is a rare but serious condition normally affecting about one child in 2,000, and one that demands clinical intervention – the growth of children suffering from the condition is affected if they are left untreated. All babies born in California are monitored at birth for Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH) levels in blood, since high levels indicate hypothyroidism.

Joe Mangano and Janette Sherman of the Radiation and Public Health Project in New York, and Christopher Busby, guest researcher at Jacobs University, Bremen, examined congenital hypothyroidism (CH) rates in newborns using data obtained from the State of California over the period of the Fukushima explosions.

Their results are published in their paper Changes in confirmed plus borderline cases of congenital hypothyroidism in California as a function of environmental fallout from the Fukushima nuclear meltdown. The researchers compared data for babies exposed to radioactive Iodine-131 and born between March 17th and Dec 31st 2011 with unexposed babies born in 2011 before the exposures plus those born in 2012.

Confirmed cases of hypothyroidism, defined as those with TSH level greater than 29 units increased by 21% in the group of babies that were exposed to excess radioactive Iodine in the womb [*]. The same group of children had a 27% increase in ‘borderline cases’ [**].

Contrary to many reports, the explosion of the reactors and spent fuel pools at Fukushima produced levels of radioactive contamination which were comparable with the Chernobyl releases in 1986. Using estimates made by the Norwegian Air Laboratory it is possible to estimate that more than 250PBq (200 x 1015) Bq of Iodine-131 (half life 8 days) were released at Fukushima.

This is also predicted by comparing the Caesium-137 estimates with I-131 releases from Chernobyl, quantities which caused the thyroid cancer epidemic in Byelarus, the Ukraine and parts of the Russian Republic.

More on this later. At Fukushima, the winds generally blew the radioactive iodine and other volatile radionuclides out to sea, to the Pacific Ocean. The journey 5,000 miles to the West Coast of the USA leaves a lot of time for dispersal and dilution. Nevertheless, small amounts of I-131 were measured in milk causing widespread concern.

The authorities downplayed any risk on the basis that the “doses” were very low; far lower than the natural background radiation. The University of Berkeley measured I-131 in rainwater from 18th to 28th March 2011 after which levels fell. If we assume that mothers drank 1 litre of rainwater a day for this period (of course they didn’t) the current radiation risk model of the International Commission on Radiological Protection (ICRP) calculates an absorbed dose to the adult thyroid of 23 microSieverts, less than 1/100th the annual background “dose”. The foetus is more sensitive (by a factor of about 10 according to ICRP) but is exposed to less as it is perhaps 100 times smaller.

So this finding is one more instance of the fact that the current radiation risk model, employed by the governments of every nation, is massively insecure for predicting harm from internal radionuclide exposures or explaining the clear observations.

The Fukushima catastrophe has been dismissed as a potential cause of health effects even in Japan, let alone as far away as California. And on what basis? Because the “dose” is too low.

This is the mantra chanted by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the World Health Organization (WHO, largely the same outfit), and the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR). And let’s not forget all the nuclear scientists who swooped down on Fukushima with their International Conferences and placatory soothing presentations.

This chant was heard after Chernobyl, after the nuclear site child leukemias; in the nuclear atmospheric test veterans cases; and in all the other clear situations which in any unbiased scientific arena would long ago have blown away the belief that low level internal exposures are safe.

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