Washington, 29 July 1997 (RFE/RL) -- A new government study
says that millions of Americans were exposed to potentially dangerous
radiation as a result of atomic bomb tests conducted by the U.S.
government in the 1950s and 1960s.
Officials at the U.S. National Cancer Institute (NCI) released
partial information from the study late last week, but the complete
report with an estimated 100,000 pages will not be released until the
end of the year.
The report will detail how a radioactive substance called iodine 131
-- produced as a result of an atomic bomb explosion -- traveled
through the air from the desert test site in the western state of
Nevada and contaminated areas as far away as the northeastern states
of New York and Massachusetts.
Preliminary information released by the NCI indicates that the vast
majority of Americans (estimated at about 160 million people in the
late 1950s) were exposed to about 2 rads -- considered to be a low
amount of radiation and about the same amount that was used in
various medical scans during that time.
However, the study also shows that people living closest to the test
sites, especially to the north and east of the test site had the
highest doses, averaging 5 to 16 rads.
Children, aged 3 months to 5 years, were considered the most at risk
by the study because they consumed large quantities of milk and their
thyroids are smaller.
Some medical experts believe there is a strong correlation between
the radioactive substance iodine 131 and cancer, especially in the
thyroid, a gland that secrets a hormone which regulates body growth
Officials at NCI say that their medical investigators worked in
cooperation with scientists and doctors in Belarus and Ukraine to
study thyroid cancer in children in those countries who were exposed
during a nuclear accident at the Chernobyl plant in 1986.
Researchers have discovered that children in the immediate Chernobyl
area have a much higher rate of thyroid cancer compared to the
However, NCI says it will be hard to make a direct correlation
between the two cases because people in the immediate Chernobyl area
were estimated to have received iodine-131 doses ten times higher
than those persons living near the Nevada test sites. Still, NCI
says it does consider the Chernobyl findings "relevant" and they will
be detailed in the final report.
In conclusion, NCI says that while their study produced "suggestive"
evidence that iodine-131 may be linked to cancer, it in no way should
be considered "conclusive."
The study is interesting because it is based completely on
mathematical models. Scientists did not examine people. Instead,
researchers based their models on 90 nuclear tests that produce
iodine-131 and relied on weather data to determine precipitation and
wind direction. Also studied were the location of farms and
agricultural centers and whether or not herds grazed in areas were
radiation fallout might have occurred.