This is part 4 of a 4 part series about the Hanford nuclear site in Washington State. We hope the series will help those in Japan achieve a better understanding of nuclear releases and be able to benefit from the experiences of the victims of Hanford as they deal with their own current circumstances related to the Fukushima Daiichi disaster.
Part 4: Hanford Downwiders and exposure
People were exposed to radiation a variety of ways around Hanford. During WWII soldiers slept in tents a few miles from the plutonium plants. Beyond the well known air and water exposures, vegetation in the region was contaminated. Fruits and vegetables were contaminated, cows grazing converted the contamination into their milk. Sheep and cows absorbed certain radioactive isotopes into their meat and bones.
Milk that was contaminated with iodine 131 is estimated to have caused 13,500 people to have doses of over 33 rem (330 mSv) to their thyroids during 1944 to 1947. 4,000 people may have accumulated up to 100 rem (1,000 mSv or 1 Sv) in their thyroid and some may have accumulated more than 2.500 rem (25,000 mSv. or 25 Sv). Up to 5% of the people in the region around Hanford had significant radiation doses. Children had the highest
exposures and milk was thought to be a major source of contamination.
Even a decade after WWII ended vegetation 75 miles downwind from Hanford was found to be over the permissible limits of the time. Some of this contamination was due to long lived radioactive isotopes, while some was due to the ongoing releases at Hanford..
People who ate fish from the river would have received 100 – 200 additional millirems per year. Those who ate fish caught near Richland, closer to the plant, would have an added dose of 1,300 millirems per year. People were also exposed by drinking water taken from the river, swimming, boating or even being near the shore downriver from the plant.
Even today apples, wine grapes and potatoes are grown in the region near Hanford and are made into food products by large companies like Con-Agra, Reser’s Foods and Tyson Foods.
A CDC study was conducted in 2002 that attempted to go back and determine the likely accumulated radiation doses for people near Hanford. The average estimated thyroid radiation dose was 174 mGy with .0029 mGy being the lowest and 2,823 mGy being the highest. The differences were due to the person’s location, age, milk consumption, outdoor activities and other variables that would expose them to more radiation at Hanford.
The people in the extremely high end of the dosages were all from a specific area except for one person. Most were in the younger age range or born in 1944. The CDC study does not go on to give a statistical number of cancers or thyroid disease thought to be connected to Hanford exposures. The CDC study has come under criticism for its lack of objectivity and questionable methodology.
The National Academies of Science reviewed the CDC study and made a series of comments about the study. They state that the thyroid cancer link to iodine 131 exposure has been known for 45 years and it directly relates to the exposure and dose someone receives. The review found that estimated releases from Hanford used in the CDC study were 30% lower than other estimates. They also stated that the CDC put too much weight on radiation from general global fallout’s role, again skewing results. Of the over 3,000 people in the study, 250 had some form of thyroid disease. 20 people had thryoid cancer but only 14 of those lived in the region during the time period of exposure.
Total people studied and available data is thought to be too small in the instance of cancer outcome numbers to make determinations. Collected information was inadequate and would need additional data for better conclusions to be made. The data from the CDC was presented in a “pass – fail” manner rather than quantified with levels of confidence in each area studied.
An over confident position was held by the CDC that there was no connection to Hanford exposures and negative health outcomes. The committee stated that the study by the CDC at Hanford and a similar Nevada bomb test study that showed a positive connection, were simply too imprecise to clearly state a “yes or no” connection between the cancers and radiation exposure.
The largest challenge with the Hanford study is that it goes back decades attempting to recreate data and this is an imprecise method for gathering data. What is clear is that people received a wide variety of exposures to iodine 131 and many other radioactive isotopes while living near or working at Hanford.
The National Cancer Society makes a clear connection between iodine 131 exposures at a young age and thyroid cancers. They also remind people that it is a slow growing cancer that is highly treatable. While much of the focus has been on thyroid cancers, other cancers are thought to be connected to the radiation released around Hanford. These cases may be even harder to prove with the time that has passed and the variables involved in reconstructing the exposure of the victims.
What clearly confounded things for the people around Hanford was the decades that went by before the radiation releases and exposures were made public. The US government hid the true nature of the work at Hanford for national security reasons and also to avoid lawsuits from the victims of the resulting radiation exposures. If the information and ensuing lawsuits could be put off it would be harder for proof to be gathered and effective lawsuits to be brought. Lawsuits are working their way through the US courts as victims try to collect for the damage from their exposure. So far the cases have had mixed results.
Some pieces of information have been found that raise more questions about the releases at Hanford. Ernest Sternglass mentions in his book Secret Fallout, that in 1946 a 19% spike in infant mortalities was found in North Dakota. It correlated with atmospheric data in an Atomic Energy Commission publication “Meterorology and Atomic Energy”. This showed the large releases from Hanford at the time being carried by the documented
weather patterns to North Dakota.
A study in Utah on the exposures of the local population due to atomic bomb testing in the area initially claimed no increase in cancers. But when females were separated out it changed drastically upward. Other studies think young females are more prone to health problems like thyroid cancer from radioactive iodine 131.
“there was in fact a signiﬁcant increase among girls zero to 19 years of age. Among this group there was a total of ten cases for 1958-62, as compared to four cases expected. For young women aged 20 to 29 years old, the number was twenty as compared to nine expected. Still more signiﬁcant, the rate of thyroid cancers per 100,000 young women under age 30 in Utah had increased almost 400 percent—from 0.6 in 1948-52, before the Nevada tests, to 2.3 in 1958-62.”
Sternglass also questioned the Utah study’s claim of no increase in leukemia so he looked at US vital statistics.
” For the age group 5 to 14 years, there were large percentage rises in leukemia deaths exactly three to ﬁve years after each of the major test series that deposited fallout in the Utah area. Between 1949 and 1967, the annual number had increased four-fold in successive peaks from 1.5 to 6.2 per 100,000 children. But since leukemia rates for children 5 to 14 years in New York State and elsewhere also went up when fallout became widespread, although not as much as in Utah, a statistician could perhaps say that there was”no unusual increase of leukemia” in Utah”
Anecdotal evidence around Hanford says that there is a connection between those exposed to radiation and subsequent cancers. Many experts agree with this. But without better data, a definitive finding about the people at Hanford from a statistical standpoint may never be known.
The study of radiation exposure and cancer does have many completed studies including some very old ones to help better understanding of the connections betweeb exposure and risk.
* A huge thank you to everyone on the fukuleaks.org/web teams for their research assistance, editing and contributions that made this series possible.
Our next project is to gather those studies and try to paint a statistical picture of the true risk factors vs. types of exposures to radiation. We hope to have this research completed and released very soon.
Series bibliography and additional reading:
Hanford’s fallout: increased thyroid risks – Hanford Nuclear Site, Washingtonhttp://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1200/is_n3_v138/ai_9227959/
Hanford Nuclear Site Wiki
Members of the Advisory Committee on Human Radiation Experiments November 6, 1994 “An Analysis of the Green Run”
Green Run Wikipedia Entry
NYT Radiation Flowed 200 Miles to Sea, Study Finds Published: July 17, 1992http://www.nytimes.com/1992/07/17/us/radiation-flowed-200-miles-to-sea-study-finds.html
Hanford Animal Studies of Radioiodine Radiat Prot Dosimetry (1995) 60(4): 295-305R.O. McClellan
Meeting about beryllium exposure set for Monday By Annette Cary, Herald staff writer
The release of radioactive materials at Hanford
US to access the harm from Hanford
Tri Cities Washington Wiki
Physicians for Social Responsibility
US to access harm from Hanford
Fukushima 1 Nuke Plant: 154 Terabecquerels per day, every day
Greg Mitchell, Countdown To Hiroshima – Article Series at The Nationhttp://www.thenation.com/blogs/media-fix
Hanford Downwinders Group
The Hanford Downwinders Information Site:
Hanford environmental reporthttp://www.doh.wa.gov/ehp/rp/environmental/2009ar.pdf
Hanford thyroid CDC study
Scientist review of the CDC reporthttp://www.downwinders.com/files/htds_expert_report.pdf
National Acadamies of Science documents on Hanford
Physicians for Social Responsibility on Hanford and underestimated doses
Oxford journal on animal testing at Hanfordhttp://rpd.oxfordjournals.org/content/60/4/295.full.pdf
Animal testing at Hanford, carcasses found
Hanford and Idaho admitted research studieshttp://hss.doe.gov/healthsafety/OHRE/roadmap/experiments/0491docc.html
Hanford article – lots of datahttp://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1200/is_n3_v138/ai_9227959/
Data on downwinders, bomb tests data and Hanfordhttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Downwinders
Bulletin of Atomic Scientists – Making Warheads
Downwind bomb tests Utah – results on lambshttp://historytogo.utah.gov/utah_chapters/utah_today/nucleartestingandthedownwinders.html
Nat Cancer Inst on iodine cancers
Iodine uptake into cows milk
Environmental data study – fish – veggies etc
Heart of America Northwest – Hanford Cleanup
Community-Based Participatory Health Survey of Hanford, WA, Downwinders: A Model for Citizen Empowerment
FDA iodine guide
Wiki on protective iodine
CRIIRAD – iodine ingestion totals
Thyroid Cancer: a comprehensive guide to clinical management
Secret Fallout online by Ernest Sternglass with a section on Hanford:
Killing Our Own online by Harvey Wasserman and Norman Solomon
Hanford environmental testing
http://www.doh.wa.gov/ehp/rp/rp-publ.htm#envradHealth Safety Security
Photos of Hanford
Admin records, public info
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