What can I say. I am mad. I am ripping mad. I’m disgusted. I’ve seen a level of dishonesty and scientific misinformation so grotesque, I don’t even know what to say.
One expects that vested interests will tweak data or publish biased studies to support their own causes from time to time. It’s dishonest and unacceptable, but it happens. Still, sometimes the level of dishonesty is so severe it really shocks the conscious.
Such is the case with a recent “study” from the Radiation and Public Health Project. It is so dishonest in its claims it really makes me wonder about the pathology of those who are behind it. What is their goal? To they, deep down, think they are serving a greater good with these lies? Have they justified this to themselves through some rationalization that preserves their need for attention and to appear to be heros? I’m sure a psychologist could have a field day.
Fukushima fallout may be causing illness in American babies: Study
A new study from the Radiation and Public Health Project found that babies born in the western United States as well as other Pacific countries shortly after the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan in March 2011 may be at greater risk for congenital hypothyroidism.
Babies born in places including Hawaii, Alaska, California, Oregon and Washington shortly after Fukushima were 28 percent more likely to suffer from the illness, according to the study, than children born in those same regions one year earlier. The illness, if untreated, can cause permanent handicaps in both the body and brain.
According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, “If untreated, congenital hypothyroidism can lead to intellectual disability and abnormal growth. In the United States and many other countries, all newborns are tested for congenital hypothyroidism. If treatment begins in the first month after birth, infants usually develop normally.”
But… how could this possibly be?
It is true that nuclear fission produces a significant quantity of iodine-131, a radioactive isotope which can cause damage to the thyroid, due to its high biological uptake and tendency to accumulate in the thyroid. Thyroid tissue is radiation-sensitive to begin with, so in nuclear accidents, iodine-131 is one of the greatest concerns.
Of course, we are talking about the United States of America. This is thousands of miles from Japan and any iodine-131 that might make it across the Pacific would be expected to be extremely dilute. Not only that, but with a half-life of only eight days, the fact that it takes a minimum of a few days for atmospheric material to traverse the Pacific (and usually more than that) means that a good portion of the isotope would have decayed by the time it reached the US.
This is born out by the fact that when iodine-131 (which normally does not occur in nature) was detected in the US, after the Fukushima incident, the levels were miniscule. Radioisotopes like iodine-131 can be detected at extremely low levels. This is done by collecting samples of precipitation, dust or air and placing them in a detector which can detect the characteristic energy levels of the gamma ray photons radioisotopes emit. When a gamma ray of the energy associated with iodine-131 is detected, it indicates an atom of the isotope has decayed. Since its half-life is so short, even a few hundred atoms of iodine-131 will produce detectable radiation, if they are present in a sample.
It is a testament to the precision of modern gamma spectrometers that iodine-131 could be detected at all in both the US and Europe. Yet, although it was detected, in some cases, the levels were so low that the actual concentration could not even be reliably established. This is not a big surprise, given that even in Tokyo, which was thousands of miles closer to Fukushima, the levels of iodine-131 only briefly exceeded what is considered the “safe” standard for infants. It should be noted that the standard is extremely conservative.
If that is not compelling reason enough to be skeptical of claims that the iodine-131 levels in the US were high enough to cause harm to infants, it should also be noted that an entire generation of US citizens was exposed to hundreds or thousands of times more iodine-131 from atmospheric nuclear testing. What harm this may have caused is still a matter of debate. it likely did result in some additional cases of thyroid cancer, but it certainly did not lead to a large number of kids of the 1950′s and 1960′s with major thyroid problems.
So how could these babies possibly have been damaged by Fukishima fallout?
The study starts off by citing examples of data that is either extraneous or just plain misleading. For example, it claims that those born near certain nuclear power plants displayed higher rates of congenital hypothyroid than the general population, but it fails to show any demographic data or controls and does not provide any greater context about the variance of hypothyroid nor does it give any indication about the severity of the condition.
For example, it provides data that indicates there is a higher incidence of congenital hypothyroid in infants born in the four counties surrounding Indian Point Nuclear Power Station versus the United States average. But what does this mean? With no further context it’s impossible to tell. Perhaps the rate of hypothyroid is very low in some parts of the country and that drives down the national average. Or, perhaps an increase is associated with certain demographic factors, like living in densely populated regions versus more rural areas. With no demographic control or context, it’s impossible to tell. For all we know, these might be much lower than many other counties.
The study provides the following data, regarding Iodine-131 detected in the US:
A team from California State University-Long Beach measured I-131 in kelp on the California coast on April 20, 2011 just over a month after the Fukushima meltdowns. The highest levels in the dry seaweed were found in Orange County in southern California (250 times greater than before the accident), Santa Cruz in northern California (200 times greater), and Los Angeles County (60 times greater) . In New Hampshire, close to the Atlantic coast, during the period March-May 2011 I-131 doubled from prior periods .
A national study conducted by the National Geological Survey examined concentrations of wet depositions of fission-produced isotopes in soil at sites across the US, for several radioisotopes, between March 15 and April 5, 2011. Results showed that for I-131, the highest depositions, in becquerels per cubic meter, occurred in north-west Oregon (5100), central California (1610), northern Colorado (833), coastal California (211), and western Washington (60.4). No other station recorded concentrations above 13. Similar results were observed for Cesium-134 and Cesium-137 . All the cited locations are on or near the Pacific coast, with the exception of Colorado, in the western US.
It is surprising to learn that the I-131 levels were only two hundred times higher than normal. Normally, there is virtually no iodine-131 in the environment. The largest contributor is actually the iodine-131 excreted by those who have been given it for medical tests or therapy. Again, this goes to show just how astoundingly sensitive the analysis can be.
But there is another point here that can easily be missed. The level of analysis required to detect iodine-131 and quantify its concentration requires such sophisticated tests that data is not available for a very large number of samples. Only a handful of areas had samples taken for such extremely sensitive analysis. Had the levels been much higher, a simple gamma ray analyzer could have given a good measure of the iodine-131, but for such minute levels, large samples would have had to been placed for extended periods in very precise spectrometers.
This would seem to present a problem, because, obviously, you can’t quantify the effects of iodine-131 if you do not have reliable measurements.
A review of US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) data measuring airborne levels of gross beta was conducted, to compare 2010 and 2011 levels. The EPA uses
air filters to measure aerosols at points close to ground level. The Agency typically does measurements about twice a week for 69 US sites. At the time of the analysis,
data were only available up to October 4, 2011, and thus results for the periods January 1 to October 4 were compared for 2010 and 2011 . Beta measurements include a variety of radioisotopes, of which I-131 is a portion, meaning gross beta as a proxy for relative exposures to the thyroid gland.
The largest amounts of radioactive fallout in the US environment from Fukushima occurred in late March and all of April 2011, before declining to levels typically recorded in 2010. Thus, 2010-2011 comparisons were made for two periods. The first was March 15-April 30, and the second was the remainder of the period (January 1-
March 14 plus May 1-October 4). To identify an “exposed” population, we selected 18 EPA stations in the five Pacific/West Coast States for which at least 20 gross beta measurements were made during both 2010 and 2011. Many stations had considerably more, and thus a total of 1,043 and 1,083 measurements were used in the two years for the 18 stations.
I am absolutely floored that they would use such a method to estimate iodine-131 levels. It’s so unreliable that it is just about meaningless. Basically what they did is take the total amount of beta radiation recorded at a series of stations and presume was directly proportional to the levels of iodine-131.
Here’s how it basically works: The EPA has a number of radiation monitoring stations around the US. These stations include air samplers, which draw in air through a filter and then use radiation detectors to determine the radioactivity of the samples taken. Some of these stations are sophisticated enough to distinguish iodine-131 and other isotopes, and they did indeed detect some iodine-131.
For whatever reason, the authors of this study decided not to use the actual iodine-131 readings at all. Perhaps they would justify this by saying that there were too few sampling stations that could register iodine-131 or that the sampling was done too infrequently. Instead, they used the “gross beta measurements.”
These measurements are in no way a measure of iodine-131. They are simply a measurement of detected beta emissions. Beta emissions come from a any number of isotopes, including many natural ones. The level of beta radiation varies considerably depending on the atmospheric conditions and other factors. For example, if there is a wind storm and a lot of dust is kicked up, the beta emission levels will go up. If the barometric pressure drops and more radon escapes the earth, the beta emissions will go up. If there is an increase in sunspots, the beta emissions will go up.
To assume that gross beta radiation is going to be proportional to iodine-131 is just absurd.
It goes on to say:
We identified a “control” group representing the remainder of the US. Thus, 31 sites were selected, representing a wide geographic diversity. These sites recorded 59 to 79 airborne beta measurements each year for the 288-day period January 1-October 4, approximately twice-weekly measurements for the entire period. In all, 2,211 and 2,057 measurements were included in each respective year for the 31 sites. The list of these 18 exposed and 31 control sites is given in Appendix 1
I’m having some major problems with this “control” group. It seems they selected sites that were not on the west coast and therefore, they presume, not as exposed to Fukushima fallout. But really? I have to wonder the logic on that, since if you are already thousands of miles from Japan, is it really fair to presume, given the already limited data, that moving a few hundred miles is going to make a huge difference in exposure?
I’d also love to know what the criteria were for selecting the 31 sites to represent the “control.” They say they were just representing wide geographic diversity. That does not sound like a rigorous control at all. They really should represent good geographic and demographic proxies for the “exposed” group.
The “average” beta for each group was calculated by dividing the arithmetic mean by the number of sites (18 or 31). Table 3 presents the changes in average beta for
exposed and control groups, for the periods of higher and lower/no exposure.
Just lumped the data from all the stations into two groups and averaged it for those groups? Seriously? Really? Are you kidding me?
With the greatest airborne gross beta increases documented on the west coast, we can assess any changes in CH incidence. All US newborns diagnosed with primary
CH born March 17-December 31, 2011 were exposed in utero to radioactive fallout from the Fukushima meltdowns. While these newborns were exposed at different phases of pregnancy, effects of exposure is elevated during the fetal period, compared to those during infancy, childhood, and adulthood.
NO! You do not know that! This is an extrapolation of an extrapolation of poor data of invalid data!
- The gross beta count at stations does not provide a reliable measure of iodine-131 levels.
- But even if it did, that would not mean that it was a good measure of exposure over a large geographic area, since there are a small number of stations.
- But even if it did, that would not mean it was a good measure of how much iodine-131 was actually being absorbed by pregnant women, since that would depend on everything from diet to lifestyle to the chemical form the iodine took.
- But even if it did, that would not be a very good measure for the effect on a fetus, since we do not have any kind of standardized development level and the authors freely admit that the pregnancies were at various stages.
If you actually wanted to measure this with any kind of reliability, the only way of doing it would be to directly measure the levels of iodine-131 exposure in the bloodstream of pregnant women and do so at established stages of the pregnancy, so you could have some meaningful data.
Basically, the study is doing this: They’re trying to justify their position that a portion of the United States, namely the West Coast region received a very high level of iodine-131 exposure relative to the rest of the country. They are trying to say that the rest of the country is a valid “control” and the west coast a valid experiment group for iodine-131. They are doing this based on very limited and poor instrument data.
What they finally did was, having established that apparently the West Coastal states got more iodine-131 than the rest of the US, they simply looked at the numbers of babies born with hypothyroid based on state health department reports.
Phone calls to state newborn screening program coordinators for monthly confirmed primary CH cases for 2010 and 2011 provided data for 41 of 50 states, representing 87% of all US births. Included in the 41 states were all five Pacific/West Coast States. Most of the other states not sharing statistical data were small states with under 10 cases per year, whose policies would not permit release of small numbers of cases due to confidentiality concerns. States reporting data are given in Appendix 2.
For births March 17 to December 31, the 2010-2011 change in confirmed CH cases in the five Pacific/West Coast States was significantly greater than for 36 other US States (p < 0.02). These 41 states represent 87% of US births, meaning that this result likely represents the pattern for the entire nation. The largest gap between the two groups of states occurred in the period March 17 to June 30, which represents fetuses exposed to environmental radioiodine during the third trimester of pregnancy, after the thyroid gland is more fully developed than in the first two trimesters.
Once again, bear in mind that they don’t actually know any of these infants were exposed to high I-131 levels. It’s assumed based on extremely indirect and unreliable data.
Lets take a look at what they found:
So the rate of children born with hypothyroid basically held steady in the states they deemed “control” but went up in the states deemed “exposed.”
(And no, it does not matter where the mother lived during the pregnancy. They assume that they lived in the area where the birth happened. That may be true for most, but it’s one more assumption on top of already shaky data)
Does that mean anything? Given the data available, not really. The number is low to begin with and given the number of groups and quantity of data, it’s all but meaningless. There’s no context as to the variance of hypothyroid. Does it fluctuate much year to year? Impossible to know from the data.
And notice that the states deemed “Control” saw no increase at all and even a small decrease. If we are to believe that this was actually caused by iodine-131, then the only explanation is that somehow the radioisotope stops completely at state borders, resulting in no increase, not even a small one, for births beyond the most western states of the US. Somehow, it traveled thousands of miles and affected babies on the coast, but then stopped dead a couple hundred miles inland and produced no effect for the rest of the US.
The most glaring omission, however, is the number of children born and thus the actual ratio of hypothyroid. Remember, this is the total number per state. This is not the proportion of children born with hypothyroid. Therefore, if there were simply many people who moved to the West Coast in 2011, and many of them had children, the number would be expected to rise. Of course, there is also no accounting for demographic changes.
A look at demographic data provides more reason to doubt the conclusions of the study. For example, in California, the largest state in the “exposed” group, there was a small decline in total births from 2010 to 2011, but a rise in births to mothers over the age of 30. It is established that births to older mothers have a higher rate of hypothyroid than to younger mothers.
There’s just nothing here. A minor, year to year, fluctuation in congenital hypothyroid that probably has nothing to do with iodine-131.
This study is so poor it never should have been published.
This entry was posted on Wednesday, April 10th, 2013 at 8:19 pm and is filed under Bad Science, Enviornment, Not Even Wrong, Nuclear, Obfuscation, Politics. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
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