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

Friday, March 16, 2012

Nuclear accidents and breastfeeding, part 1

Deep River, a memory that fades in and fades out.  I look at the old photos of my family and remember the joys of childhood.  The freedom of running through the woods, smelling the pine, chasing chipmunks, and the Canadian crisp clean air. Time spent lying on the forest floor and staring at the fluffy white clouds rolling gently overhead.  My mom wanted us out of the cabin.  I can't remember what she said but I knew the cabin was hers for the day and all outdoors was our designated home for the day.  The clearest memory of that time is of my brother and I letting a chipmunk visit our cabin.  A vision of a madhouse with a terrified chipmunk running up curtains and walls and an angry mom.  She didn't understand why we brought the creature into the cabin.  I think we wanted a pet to play with but maybe that is the adult in me rationalizing my childhood actions.  My brother and I learned that day that chipmunks are very destructive and that mothers are not very happy when nature invades their territory.  I remember the winters in Deep River, a different cabin, near the Quebec River.  Lots and lots of snow, my brother and I skating the Quebec River or tobogganing down a hill, and me terrified that we would hit some tree.  We lived miles or so it seemed from the main road into town.  Trash day was often the highlight of my week.  My dad would put the garbage on our toboggan and let me ride on top of the garbage can.  One time I got frostbitten hands and feet from the ride.  I remember how painful it was and how my Dad was so very upset.  Upset with himself, as parents often do things that upon reflection aren't such great ideas.  I think that put an end to rides in freezing temperatures.  My memories of my Dad have stayed really focused over the years.  But my memory of my Mom has faded.  

When we lived in Deep River, my Dad worked in Chalk River, some miles away.  I knew he worked at Atomic Energy of Canada, which meant nothing to me.  I didn't see him much, he was gone a lot of the time.  One time he talked about being too "hot" to come home.  What did that mean?  I didn't know at the time, I was just angry that once again he was gone for long hours away from us.  He talked about being scrubbed down with a brush several times and something about a geiger counter.  But I didn't understand.  

My memories of childhood have always focused on the 2 years our family spent in Deep River.  It was a freedom that few American children get now.  That time gave me a love of the outdoors that has never diminished.  I don't understand people who spend all their days indoors.  Indoors is suffocating to me.  Open the doors and the windows; give me that fresh air.  We moved often, when I was growing up.  I found as time went along, it was harder and harder to connect with people because I knew my family wasn't staying long. Years later in another town (some 5 years later), my Mom was diagnosed with breast cancer.  I didn't know what she had because back then one didn't say "breast."  I knew it began with a lump in her armpit.  She got the standard treatment, radiation.  I remember that she went kinda crazy, babbling nonsense at times.  I suppose it was pain pills?  I didn't know, she talked crazy.  She had no one to help her at home with her dressings after her one breast was removed and her arm on the same side was useless.  She didn't want to ask me but I was the only one available. So at the age of 12, I became a "nurse."  Rotting green flesh, the smell was unbelievable.  Two years of dying, of being a kid and having to sit in hospitals or waiting rooms.  She even went to Sloan Kettering in NY City and yet the cancer continued onward in her body.  The smell of a hospital would make me sick and sometimes I just keeled over in a faint.  I hated the color of light green because all the hospitals seemed to have this putrid color.  I hated the time spent, doing nothing, just looking at the floor or the clock and wanting to go home.  Dying is boring for the young and healthy, an insensitivity to what will be lost.  She died when she was 48 years old.  I am now 60 years old, and that seems way too young to die.  Young people die, far younger than her.  But the child inside me has never forgotten that feeling, that gaping hole in my heart.   When birthing my first baby at home, I cried out for her.  I wanted her there, with me.  Part of the reason for having my baby at home, was my absolute fear of hospitals and doctors.  A belief that hospitals were about dying not birth. There were 4 midwives there and my husband, but what I really wanted was my mother.  Thirty-one years old and still needing a mother to be there.

I always wanted to know why my mother got breast cancer.  There was no family history of breast cancer.  It wasn't til my Dad died in 2009, that I started remembering bits and pieces of conversations with my Dad about his experience of working at Chalk River.  His questions about all the American soldiers working to help clean up after an accident at the atomic plant.  I later learned that Jimmy Carter was one of the American soldiers that came to Chalk River to help in the clean up of that 1954 accident.  I started wondering whether there was a connection between my mother's cancer and us living near a nuclear site that had had an "accident."  I'll never know, but I suspect that her cancer is related.  

Years down the road, I suffered a miscarriage that lead to the discovery of a tumor on my ovary.  It was a terrifying experience.  I wanted to wait and see if it would just go away.  But it kept getting bigger and was causing excruciating pain.  They did the surgery and found it was a benign tumor, a dermoid cyst.  I was happy it wasn't cancer.  But it seemed like a curious thing.  They took the one ovary.  I have a scar like someone who had a C-section.  I, who had home births, couldn't imagine how mothers cope with surgery and a new baby.  I felt like my insides were in danger of falling outside.   I wonder whether my ovaries were damaged by radiation exposure during the years at Deep River?  I played and swam in the Quebec River.  Those childhood memories no longer seem so beautiful.  They actually feel rather strange and malignant.  I lived in a world in which you cannot know the danger.  Those times seem like a foreshadowing of our present day reality in Japan at Fukushima.

As a retired lactation consultant, I am concerned about decisions that are being made regarding infant feeding in Japan.  I read that Japan is planning on breast milk radiation tests.  And I wonder what that will mean for breastfeeding.  How much testing is going on with infant formula?   China has banned imported infant formula from Japan because Japanese infant formula manufacturer, Meiji announced in December of 2011 that they found cesium of up to 30.8 becquerels per kilogram ( lots had already been sold or on store shelves).  Statements I read on various internet sites, believed that the water added to powdered infant formula would dilute the Cesium.  Yet, in Japan, tap water in various areas is also contaminated with Cesium.  So for the Japanese, would cesium be diluted by adding contaminated tap water?  How accessible is bottled water?  Is this imported?  According to an article written by Richard Knox in March of 2011 entitled, "How Risky Is Infant Formula Made with Tokyo Tap Water?" we should be reassured...."The reported dose in Tokyo tap water(210 becquerels) versus the Japanese safety limts (100 becquerels/liter for infants, 300 for adults) is not far from the difference in radiation dose people naturally get if they live in a place like Denver versus a sea-level city such as Los Angeles."  Hm...are people in Denver ingesting that radiation? 

In an article published by EurActive dated April 2011, "The risks associated with iodine-131 contamination in Europe are no longer 'negligible,' according to CRIIRAD, a French research body on radioactivity.  The NGO is advising pregnant women and infants against 'risky behaviour,' such as consuming fresh milk or vegetables with large leaves." The article states, "Fresh milk and creamy cheeses, as well as meat from cattle that have been outside eating grass..."may have been indirectly contaminated.  I don't remember seeing any warning for Americans last year...maybe I missed the warnings.  The article also states, "In normal times, no trace of iodine-131 should be detectable in rainwater or milk."  (CRIIRAD had detected it in rainwater in south-eastern France and the French IRSN had detected it in milk)

"CRIIRAD notes that 'huge amounts of radioactive material have been released by the Fukushima Daiichi plant since Saturday 12 march 2011.  On Tuesday 5 April, 24 days after the accident, the releases continue.'"

While contamination of radioactive material is greatest in Japan, particularly around Fukushima;  this radioactive material is spreading around the globe through winds and sea (TEPCO of Japan has been dumping radioactive water into the Pacific Ocean).  Truly our world is a small one, because an accident that happens thousands of miles away can impact us in very frightening ways.

So for mothers in Japan or mothers in our global community concerned about radiation contamination of breast milk, what is the safest way to feed a baby after a nuclear accident?  I recently read a statement by a Japanese mother that said that while the government was saying it was safe to breastfeed, she did not trust what the government was saying and was bottlefeeding infant formula to her baby because she believed her own milk was too highly contaminated with radioactive materials.    What do we know?  
Copyright 2012 Valerie W. McClain


Saturday, March 3, 2012

The Tyranny of Formula-Feeding, second verse

"Shares in Nestle were up 1 per cent to 55 francs at the start of Zurich trading Thursday (February 16, 2012)"
--"Nestle Profit Up But Tough Year Ahead"--ninemsn website in Finance

According to this article, "the 2011 net profits for Nestle rose by 8% to 9.5 billion Swiss francs."  

Meanwhile in India in January 2011 the India Resource Center writes about, "Nestle in Secret Pact with Public Universities on Nutrition."  The article states, "Four public-funded national universities have entered into a 'confidential' pact with Nestle, one of the biggest baby food and commercial food companies, for nutrition awareness programmes for adolescent school-going girls in government-run village schools."

In February of 2011,  "Nestle helps University of York students to be a 'class' act."  According to the article by the University of York, "The company [Nestle] has been associated with York Students in Schools, which places nearly 600 students a year in 60 schools, since it started in 1994."  The program has York University students volunteering as classroom assistants in schools in the city of York, UK. 

In 2007 Indiana University Kelly School of Business in the USA, received $750,000 gift from Nestle.  It was a "Gift to endow faculty chair, fellowship and support school's Center for Brand Leadership.  "The Nestle gift is a recipe for future success in both the corporation and for the Kelley School.  Alford [a Kelly alumni and in 2006 CEO and chairman of Nestle, USA] says that Nestle knows that the benefit of investing in the school is, ultimately, creating graduates who will be promising recruits." 

At the IMD, a business school Nestle offers a scholarship for women to help women obtain their MBA.  The American Academy of Pediatrics pre-conference Symposium in October of 2011, was entitled, "Ending Childhood Obesity Within a Generation-Innovations in Practice," was supported by Nestle Nutrition Institute, Aetna Foundation, and Sanford Help Group.  In October 2010, Nestle presented its "landmark" data on "Feeding Infants and Toddlers Study (FITS) to the American Academy of Pediatrics Annual Conference.  In a Gerber (now owned by Nestle) News Release they discuss the HALF Project, which is an AAP initiative.   The funding and the research support is provided by Nestle.  "The project was created after a comprehensive needs assessment of AAP members found the need for pediatric-focused tools and resources to successfully support pediatricians in communicating family-centered obesity prevention and care."

In the USA, Nestle has partnered with Reading is Fundamental, a nonprofit children's literacy organization.  It's Nestle's ongoing commitment to education.  Nestle will donate up to $250,000 to Reading is Fundamental when consumers collect the promotion codes from candy (Wonka, Nestle Crunch, Butterfinger, Babe Ruth, etc...all trademarked products from Nestle)  This promotion ran from June of 2010-December 2011.  Rather ironical wouldn't you say?  Nestle being on this stop obesity in kids and at the same time enticing kids and adults to eat more candy to support a reading program?  I guess we can call it, corporate world benevolence.  

One of the more interesting stories of Nestle and academia is the one of Dr. Jose Saavedra, who is the medical and scientific director of Nestle Nutrition Division.  He also is a professor in the department of pediatrics, Division of Gastroenterology and Nutrition at John Hopkins University.  Dr.  Saavedra has had his research published in various medical journals regarding the positive effects of beneficial bacteria, probiotics.  Of course one of the ironies of irony, is that the company he works for markets a product that competes with a substance that naturally contains beneficial bacteria, breastfeeding.  Oh yes, I forgot, infant formula companies are now putting probiotics in their infant formulas.  I haven't yet figured out how one puts live beneficial bacteria into a substance that needs to be sterile for the safety of infants, but heck I'm not a scientist.  I guess genetic engineering can do about anything, particularly when funding comes from some very wealthy corporations.  I find it hard to understand how this academic merging with corporations is beneficial to students at the university level.  Do Saavedra's students know his relationship to Nestle?  Obviously John Hopkins doesn't care about this merging of interests.   But I think one must question the independence of thought regarding nutrition at John Hopkins, when such relationships are supported.

The tyranny in our society is one in which the infant formula industry has enormous influence in academics as well as in medical/pediatric societies.  It isn't just Nestle who is using their profits to influence academics.  Our society has been and is being "candied" into believing that breastfeeding is only a lifestyle choice.  Academia is forever grateful in a tanked economy to accept the funding that infant formula companies provide.  That gratefulness results in knowledge about the risks of infant formula being kept from consumers.  
Copyright 2012 Valerie W. McClain