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U. S. National Cancer Institute (NCI) Withheld Atom-Bomb Test Data

Radioactive Fallout (Iodine) Increased Thyroid Cancer in U. S.

NCI's record of denial of Right-to-Know has, on occasions, extended to what amounts to frank suppression of data on avoidable causes of cancer. This is well illustrated with regard to the relation between atom bomb tests and thyroid cancer.

In 1983, responding to public protests and demands, Congress enacted Public Law (97-414). This directed the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) to investigate the risks of thyroid cancer from Iodine-131 (I-131) radioactive fallout following atom bomb tests at the Nevada Test Site (NTS) in the 1950’s and early 1960’s; DHHS delegated this investigation to the NCI. Fourteen years later, in October 1997, NCI published its report; this was based on data which had already been available in 1989, eight years previously.

This report showed that, depending on age at the time of the tests, site of residence, and diet, particularly amount of milk consumption by children, the public was exposed to varying levels of I-131, for some two months following each of the 90 tests. In 1997 Congressional testimony, Dr. Klausner estimated that the overall average thyroid dose to 160 million people was about 2 rads. Based on these data, it was further estimated that from 11,000 to 212,000 thyroid cancers would be expected. However, no attempt was made to communicate this critical information to the approximately 160 million people exposed. Had they been so informed, they could have readily reduced their risks by simple thyroid medication.

At a September, 1999 hearing by the Senate Subcommittee on Investigation of the Committee on Governmental Affairs, former Senator John Glenn (D-OH) charged that the NCI investigation was "plagued by lack of public participation and openness." Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) charged that

" . . . since the NCI report was put out last October, there still has been no concerted effort to release this information (to the general public.) This is a travesty." More specifically, a Committee staff report concluded:

" 1. Researchers at the NCI substantially delayed the release of the I-131 report, despite data that showed that significant numbers of children received doses of radiation that were much higher and posed greater health risks than previously believed.

" 2. The NCI neither involved the public in its study nor adequately responded to governmental requests for information developed through the study.

" 3. . . . NCI management performed little oversight or tracking of the project. As a result, they failed to ensure that the report was completed in a timely fashion and that important issues were addressed in an open manner.

" 4. The report does not meaningfully inform the American public of the impacts of the radioactive fallout from the weapons testing program.

" 5. The failures of the I-131 study have been repeated in a NCI-lead international effort to study the effects of radioactive iodine releases on thyroid cancer in the areas surrounding Chernobyl."

In January 2003, 13 years after NCI concluded its risk estimates from I-131 weapons testing fallout, it released a new publication, Radioactive I-131 from Fallout, to health care providers and advocacy groups, but still not to the general public. It should be emphasized that the incidence of thyroid cancer has escalated by 71% from 1973 to 1999. (See Table for statistical data)

Excerpted from Stop Cancer Before it Starts: How to Win the War on Cancer, 2003 by Samuel S. Epstein, M. D.

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