50% Increase in Cancer for Male Baby Boomers Exposed to Above Ground Nuclear Tests

October 23, 2009

A new study by the Radiation and Public Health Project reveals a 50% increase in cancer rates for boys who were exposed to above ground nuclear tests during the 1950s and early 1960s. More than 100 nuclear bombs were detonated in the atmosphere over the Nevada Test Site between 1951 and 1962, which emitted radioactive Iodine-131, Strontium-90 and other toxic materials. The results are based on analyses for Strontium-90 in baby teeth that were stored for over three decades at the University of Washington in St. Louis. The baby teeth were collected through a program where children were given a little button with a gap tooth smiling boy that said, "I gave my tooth to science," in exchange for their tooth.

The Radiation and Public Health Project is a nonprofit educational and scientific organization, established by scientists and physicians dedicated to understanding the relationships between low-level, nuclear radiation and public health.

In 2001, the Project received an unexpected gift of 85,000 individually identified baby teeth from Washington University in St. Louis. The teeth were not used in the landmark 1958-1970 study of more than 300,000 baby teeth where scientists found that the average Strontium-90 in children rose rapidly while atomic bombs were tested above the Nevada desert and declined rapidly after President Kennedy and Premier Khrushchev signed the 1963 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which ended large-scale above ground tests.

During that time, Edward Teller, said, "The living organism is so complicated and the intertwining of cause and effect is so intricate that we may never know the biological effect of so small a cause as worldwide radiation."

Nevertheless, Epidemiologist Joseph Mangano of the Project, determined that it was feasible to use the St. Louis teeth to study whether Baby Boomers who developed cancer by age 45 had higher Strontium-90 levels than those who are healthy at age 45. In what is called a prospective health study, Mangano analyzed the radioactive Strontium-90 in baby teeth of 200 healthy Boomers and compared the results to contemporary cancer data from 200 men who had donated their teeth and died and/or developed cancer by the age of 45.

Mangano said, "What we found out was shocking. Persons who had died of cancer had more than double the Strontium-90 in their (baby) teeth than did healthy persons." Exposure to Strontium-90 can cause leukemia and bone cancer.

The Project said that the study has groundbreaking potential; declaring little information exists on harm from Nevada above-ground nuclear weapons testing. In 1997 and 2003, the federal government produced reports downplaying the human health impacts from exposure to the fallout.

In his new book, "Radioactive Baby Teeth: The Cancer Link," Mangano describes the journey and how exposure to Strontium-90 increases the risk of childhood cancer. The first chapter may be downloaded at www.radiation.org.

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