Report: Nevada nuclear test fallout reached as far as New YorkJuly 25, 1997
Web posted at: 1:01 p.m. EDT (1701 GMT)
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Atomic bomb testing conducted by the U.S. government in Nevada during the 1950s and early 1960s may have exposed communities as far away as New York to potentially dangerous fallout, USA Today reported Friday.
In its report, the paper cited an unreleased federal study conducted by the National Cancer Institute that pinpoints county-by-county exposure to iodine 131, the predominant radioactive isotope that rained down on the nation during the tests.
It is the first time a study has determined where iodine 131 landed and the degree to which people were exposed. But the study does not answer how much of a health risk, if any, exposure to the isotope posed, the paper reported.
Residents who lived near the testing site have claimed iodine 131 exposed them to cancer, but researchers have yet to determine a conclusive link between the isotope and cancer.
The NCI study is to be released in late September. Scientists who have seen the 100,000-page findings told USA Today the counties where residents were most exposed ranged from the heart of the farm belt to Rocky Mountain states to upstate New York.
In those areas, the scientists said, residents absorbed as much iodine 131 as people in Nevada, Utah and Arizona who lived immediately adjacent to the Nevada test site. The study also found that every county in the nation was exposed to some level of the isotope, the paper reported.
Congress in 1982 called on the National Cancer Institute to conduct the study, which details the level of exposure to the nation's-then 3,071 counties from the above-ground nuclear tests conducted between 1951 and 1962.
Children most exposed
The study determines exposure by examining milk consumption. Much of the iodine 131 traveled through the atmosphere and landed in grass through rainfall. It then was eaten by cows and goats and concentrated in their milk, the paper reported.
Therefore, many of the people most exposed to the potentially harmful isotope were children, according to the study.
Within the human body, the thyroid gland uses iodine to make thyroxin and other hormones that regulate metabolism. Children who do not get enough iodine may not grow normally or fully develop mentally. Adults develop goiters, enlarged glands at the lower front of the neck that struggle to meet the body's demand for thyroid hormones.
The cancer-causing potential of radioactive iodine is unknown.
Critics claim cover-up
The duration of the study, and the far-reaching implications it carries, has fueled controversy. Last year, an advisory panel from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention requested a copy of the study but was rebuffed. Earlier this week, two nuclear industry watchdog groups asked Cabinet secretaries to release the study, alleging a government cover-up to suppress data.
"This is appalling that the National Cancer Institute did not make this available as soon as possible. It's been too long sitting on this," said Arjun Makhijani, president of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research, who says he has read some of the study.
The two groups that lodged their requests were the Military Production Network and Physicians for Social Responsibility.
"To be sitting on this information, which shows where people are at risk, and to not be sharing that information with public health officials and others in a position ... to mitigate those risks is unconscionable," Tim Connor of the Energy Research Foundation told USA Today.
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