Sunday, March 18, 2012

Nuclear accidents and breastfeeding-part 2-What do we know?

How do we know when something is not fit to drink, touch, eat or breathe?  What happens when that something is invisible to the eye.  We can not taste it, or smell it.  With radiation we know that, NO DOSE IS SAFE.  A panel of the US National Academy of Sciences recognized that there is no safe radiation dose.

Not what you heard?  Yeah, I heard the PR people from the nuclear industry after Fukushima.  It was the don't worry dance, a little radiation isn't going to hurt you. Or we read that fear is the bigger danger in Japan than radiation. Then the experts bring out the numbers and then confusion rains upon the American populace because the world measures things in System Internationale (SI), derived from the metric system and in the US we do the conventional.  For example emitting radiation is measured in the US by the unit called curie (Ci) and in the SI system the unit is becquerel.  Measuring the unit dose absorbed by someone in the US is the rad and SI unit system is gray (Gy).  Biological risk is measured in the US by the unit rem and the SI unit is sievert (Sv).  Mighty easy to get confused trying to figure it out.  The CDC puts out a pdf that explains the system.  A good example is the measurement of exposure to radiation.  In the US one mammogram gives you a dose of 70 mrm (milli rem), in Japan that would be 0.7 mSv (milli sievert).  In the US one dental x-ray is 4-15 mrem in Japan that would be 0.04-0.15 mSv.

Health effects to the body are dependent upon the dosage, and a person's age, and whether they are male or female.  We know that the most vulnerable to radiation exposure is the elderly, women, and children. Women who are pregnant and fetuses are particularly vulnerable.  Radiation increases our risk of cancers (blood and bone), cardiovascular disorders, immune deficiencies, birth defects, endocrine disorders-thyroid problems, and genetic mutations.  

"Childhood disease clusters have been found in many communities with nuclear facilities.  This list includes increases in childhood leukemia near reprocessing facilities in La Hague, France and at Sellafield in the British Isles and the Krummel nuclear reactor in Germany."  from "Radiation and Children:  The Ignored Victims" from Nuclear Information and Resource Service World Information Servie on Energy.

"In November 2009, Joseph Mangano of the Radiation and Public Health Project published a study of newborn hypothyroidism near the Indian Point nuclear reactors in Buchanan, New York...During the period 1997 to 2007, the rate of newborn hypothyroidism in the combined four-county (nearest Indian Point) population was 92.4% greater, or nearly double the U.S. rate."
from Global Research, "Uranium Weapons, Low-Level Radiation and Deformed Babies" by Paul Zimmerman

Birth defects produced by the Chernobyl accident (in a book by Alexey Yablokov of the Russian Academy of Sciences:  "cleft lip and/or palate, doubling of the kidneys, polydactyly (extra fingers or toes), anomalies in the development of nervous and blood systems, amelia (limb reduction defects), anencephaly (defective development of the brain), spina bifida (incomplete closure of the spinal column), Down's syndrome, abnormal openings in the esophagus and anus, and multiple malformations occurring simultaneously."
from Global Research, "Uranium Weapons, Low-Level Radiation and Deformed Babies" by Paul Zimmerman

According to the Say-Peace Project from the Asia-Pacific Journal, "Fetuses, babies, and young children are far more susceptible to the effects of radiation than adults.  It has been estimated that babies and infants are four times as vulnerable as adults in their 20's or 30's..." and, "In Belarus, where the effects of the Chernobyl nuclear accident were most severe, the rate of thyroid cancer among children increased rapidly 5 to 10 years after the accident."

The Say-Peace Project mentions that standards for radiation (Iodine-131) in tap water in Japan are higher than other countries.  US EPA standard is 0.111 Bq/L, Germany 0.5, Ukraine 2, Belarus 10, WHO 10 and Japan 300 (100 for infants).  They also state, 

"As for breast milk, we cannot simply generalize that mothers should avoid breastfeeding, considering nutritional (immunity) and safety benefits of breast milk, especially when babies less than three-months are concerned.  According to a survey by the Breast milk Survey and Mother-Child Support Network, there were cases in which no radioactivity was detected in breast milk of mothers living in hot spots, while radioactivity was detected in breast milk of a mother in Mitaka, which is not a hot spot."

In the book, Breastfeeding Matters by Maureen Minchin (Alma Publications, page 28), "In the baby who is being breastfed, the body content of strontium diminishes[the baby excretes more than he or she takes in] but the bottlefed infant has increased strontium in his bones, as cows' milk may contain six times as much strontium as breastmilk and the mineral balance of cows' milk ensures that it is deposited in baby's bones."

In the book, Milk, Money, an Madness by Naomi Baumslag and Dia Michels (Bergin & Garvey, page 97), "Information from Italy and Austria shows that breastmilk contained one/three-hundredth the amount of radioactive iodine and caesium that was found in cow's milk following the Chernobyl accident." (this was confirmed by Swedish studies) and, "Resulting shortages of both fresh milk and infant formula put all artificially fed babies at risk.  Additionally, the radiation levels in breastmilk were much lower than were the levels in the mother's body, leading researchers to conclude that some mechanism exists that reduces the radioactive materials in the milk as it is produced."

I wonder whether it is possible that the enzyme in breastmilk (and blood) called cholinesterase, is responsible for this reduction.  The US Army Medical Research Institute of Chemical Defense have been studying a nerve agent bioscavenger, Human ButyrylCholinesterase (a genetically engineered compound created in the mammary gland of a goat and derivative of cholinesterase)

The decisions that have to be made by citizens after a nuclear accident are complex.  How does one make such decisions?  How do we fathom such a scary world?  Something we cannot see or smell can impact our lives now and into the future.  My childhood spent for a few years near a nuclear plant haunts me with questions.  Will I ever know whether my mother's breast cancer was caused by our closeness to a nuclear power plant?  And now I wonder about Fukushima?  Chernobyl's devastating health effects were covered up, will this also be covered up?  I suspect that it can't be, it's too huge an accident.
Copyright 2012 Valerie W. McClain

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