Archive for category Health

13 workers exposed to radiation at New Mexico disposal plant

By Tom Watkins, CNN

updated 8:45 AM EST, Thu February 27, 2014

(CNN) — Nearly two weeks after a radiation leak was reported at the Department of Energy’s Waste Isolation Pilot Plant outside Carlsbad, New Mexico, 13 employees have been notified that preliminary test results show they were exposed to radiation, officials said.

“It is important to note that these are initial sample results,” DOE’s Waste Isolation Pilot Plant and Nuclear Waste Partnership, its contractor, said in a statement Wednesday. “These employees, both federal and contractor, will be asked to provide additional samples in order to fully determine the extent of any exposure.”

The release did not quantify the initial estimates of the exposure. “We can’t release that information,” said Nuclear Waste Partnership spokesman Donavan Mager, who cited the HIPAA privacy rule. But, he added, the preliminary results indicate that the employees were exposed to americium, a man-made, radioactive metal.

He said a news conference would be held at 4 p.m. ET Thursday.

On Monday, DOE reported that tests on samples collected from numerous areas in the plant three and four days after the February 14 incident had found “slightly elevated” levels of airborne radioactivity.

“These concentrations remain well below a level of public or environmental hazard,” the department said.

Dose assessment modeling of the leak “showed a potential dose of less than one millirem at each of the environmental sampling locations,” about a tenth of the amount a person would receive from a chest X-ray, the DOE statement said.

“The average person living in the United States receives an annual dose of about 620 millirem from exposure to naturally occurring and other sources of radiation,” it said.

According to its website, the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) “safely disposes” of the nation’s defense-related radioactive waste.

Waste shipped to WIPP, which is 26 miles outside of Carlsbad, is “permanently” disposed of in rooms mined out of a salt formation 2,150 feet (0.4 miles) below the surface of the desert.

The waste generally consists of clothing, tools, equipment, sludge, soil or other materials contaminated with man-made radioactive elements that are heavier than uranium.

An alarm late on February 14 indicated higher than usual levels of airborne radiation and led to a first-of-its-kind response since the nuclear disposal facility began accepting waste in 1999.

An air monitor at the plant detected the spike in an isolated area below ground, which prompted the shutoff of filtered air from the facility into the environment around it.

“This is the first time we had to close off air filtered by the facility to the outside,” Energy Department spokesman Gregory Sahd told CNN last week.

The radiation was first detected at 11:30 p.m., according to Sahd. He said the facility’s ventilation system, which monitors air quality, automatically switched to “filtration mode” when the leak was discovered.

Because of the location of the incident, Sahd said, there was little risk to employees. Those who were inside the above-ground area of the facility were quarantined until radiological control technicians cleared them to go home.

“No one was underground when the alarm went off,” Sahd said. “And everyone that was in the facility (at the time), we know where they are and we’ve tested them.”

Since the incident, access to the site has been limited to “essential personnel,” and employees are checked for any external contamination when they leave.

Source: http://www.cnn.com/2014/02/27/us/new-mexico-radiation-exposure/

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Even Low-Level Radioactivity Is Damaging, Scientists Conclude (November 2012)

ScienceDaily (Nov. 13, 2012) – Even the very lowest levels of radiation are harmful to life, scientists have concluded in the Cambridge Philosophical Society’s journal Biological Reviews.

Reporting the results of a wide-ranging analysis of 46 peer-reviewed studies published over the past 40 years, researchers from the University of South Carolina and the University of Paris-Sud found that variation in low-level, natural background radiation was found to have small, but highly statistically significant, negative effects on DNA as well as several measures of health.

The review is a meta-analysis of studies of locations around the globe that have very high natural background radiation as a result of the minerals in the ground there, including Ramsar, Iran, Mombasa, Kenya, Lodeve, France, and Yangjiang, China. These, and a few other geographic locations with natural background radiation that greatly exceeds normal amounts, have long drawn scientists intent on understanding the effects of radiation on life. Individual studies by themselves, however, have often only shown small effects on small populations from which conclusive statistical conclusions were difficult to draw.

“When you’re looking at such small effect sizes, the size of the population you need to study is huge,” said co-author Timothy Mousseau, a biologist in the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of South Carolina. “Pooling across multiple studies, in multiple areas, and in a rigorous statistical manner provides a tool to really get at these questions about low-level radiation.”

Mousseau and co-author Anders Moller of the University of Paris-Sud combed the scientific literature, examining more than 5,000 papers involving natural background radiation that were narrowed to 46 for quantitative comparison. The selected studies all examined both a control group and a more highly irradiated population and quantified the size of the radiation levels for each. Each paper also reported test statistics that allowed direct comparison between the studies.

The organisms studied included plants and animals, but had a large preponderance of human subjects. Each study examined one or more possible effects of radiation, such as DNA damage measured in the lab, prevalence of a disease such as Down’s Syndrome, or the sex ratio produced in offspring. For each effect, a statistical algorithm was used to generate a single value, the effect size, which could be compared across all the studies.

The scientists reported significant negative effects in a range of categories, including immunology, physiology, mutation and disease occurrence. The frequency of negative effects was beyond that of random chance.

“There’s been a sentiment in the community that because we don’t see obvious effects in some of these places, or that what we see tends to be small and localized, that maybe there aren’t any negative effects from low levels of radiation,” said Mousseau. “But when you do the meta-analysis, you do see significant negative effects.”

“It also provides evidence that there is no threshold below which there are no effects of radiation,” he added. “A theory that has been batted around a lot over the last couple of decades is the idea that is there a threshold of exposure below which there are no negative consequences. These data provide fairly strong evidence that there is no threshold — radiation effects are measurable as far down as you can go, given the statistical power you have at hand.”

Mousseau hopes their results, which are consistent with the “linear-no-threshold” model for radiation effects, will better inform the debate about exposure risks. “With the levels of contamination that we have seen as a result of nuclear power plants, especially in the past, and even as a result of Chernobyl and Fukushima and related accidents, there’s an attempt in the industry to downplay the doses that the populations are getting, because maybe it’s only one or two times beyond what is thought to be the natural background level,” he said. “But they’re assuming the natural background levels are fine.”

“And the truth is, if we see effects at these low levels, then we have to be thinking differently about how we develop regulations for exposures, and especially intentional exposures to populations, like the emissions from nuclear power plants, medical procedures, and even some x-ray machines at airports.”

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Why is nuke industry blowing off low-level radiation health findings?

Day-to-day releases of small amounts of radioactivity from reactors are a serious threat to public health.

By Cathy Vakil and Eric Notebaert.
NOW Magazine, November 22 2012

The health risks of nuclear are very much under the radar as hearings begin December 3 on whether Ontario will spend billions to resuscitate the aging Darlington station.

As physicians, it is our duty to advocate for illness prevention, and we believe nuclear power is a serious threat to public health, from uranium mining to refining to the day-to-day release of small amounts of radioactivity from reactors.

The industry claims that these releases are too small to worry about; research indicates otherwise.

Since the early 1980s, numerous studies in North America and Europe have shown an elevated risk of a number of illnesses in nearby populations, particularly childhood leukemia. In 2008, a well-designed study by the German government showed that children under five years old living within a 5-kilometre radius of all 16 of the country’s nuclear plants had an elevated risk of developing leukemia, as did a similar French study of children under 15.

What does this mean for Canada? It seems government authorities don’t want to know. There is not a single large-scale case-control study of low-level emissions from reactors here. Without the appropriate studies, it’s reasonable to assume that health is being compromised.

Unlike other countries, which build reactors in rural areas, Ontario locates them in the most populous region of the country – near Toronto. Over 450,000 people live within 20 kilometres of the Darlington station, and over 1 million around Pickering.

And while Canadian reactor operators assure us the risk of an accident is insignificant, there is a major nuclear event about once a decade somewhere in the world, Fukushima merely being the most recent.

Since Fukushima, Germany, Belgium, Switzerland and Japan have all decided to phase out nuclear power and invest massively in green energy. These countries are protecting human health and building a modern energy system. Why aren’t we?

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Cathy Vakil is a family doctor and professor in the department of family medicine at Queens University. Eric Notebaert is adjunct professor at the School of Medicine at the University of Montreal. Both are board members of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment.
NOW | November 22-29, 2012 | VOL 32 NO 12 

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