The New York Times January 28, 1999 No Radiation Effect Found At Northwest Nuclear Site By MATTHEW L. WALD In research ordered by Congress after revelations of huge radioactive gas releases at the Hanford nuclear reservation during the cold war, an intensive study of 3,400 adults who grew up near the site has found no difference in thyroid abnormalities between those estimated to have received high doses and those believed to have gotten none. The findings are to be released on Thursday at a meeting for people who live near the Hanford complex, in south-central Washington State. The main points of the study, which tried to track down an entire group and evaluate the health of its members, were described today by four people here who had been briefed on its results. Thyroid nodules and thyroid cancers, especially in people exposed to radiation when they were children, are among the health effects most closely tied it. A byproduct of nuclear fission is radioactive iodine, which concentrates in the thyroid gland when humans are exposed to it. Failing to find a link contradicts expectations that were widely held when the study was ordered in 1988. Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon, whose staff was briefed on the results, said through an aide that he feared some people would try to use the findings to argue for reopening a plutonium reactor at Hanford that has been in mothballs. "I remain deeply skeptical of the proposition that the world's largest radioactive waste site does not pose a health risk to the people that live around it," Mr. Wyden said. The research was independent of the Energy Department, which, as the successor agency to the Atomic Energy Commission, operates Hanford. The study was performed by the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center, of Seattle, acting as a contractor for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, part of the Department of Health and Human Services. It was carried out from 1992 to 1997. People who were briefed on the study said researchers had recorded the names of 5,199 people born in the Hanford area from 1940 to 1944 and set out to find them. In the research, 3,441 of these people were studied intensively, with sonograms and blood tests. Each subject was examined by two doctors on separate occasions. Researchers tried to estimate the dose received by each person, based on such factors as where they grew up and whether their family grew their own vegetables or kept a cow. Radioactive iodine decays rapidly, but vegetables picked fresh from areas with radioactive fallout, or milk given by cows that grazed on contaminated grass, would have higher amounts. Estimated doses of those in the study ranged from zero to about 280 rads to the thyroid. In contrast, in case of a civilian power plant accident, the Federal Government advises consideration of an evacuation of the nearby population if the anticipated dose to the thyroid is 25 rads. The report also drew comparisons with the rates of thyroid abnormalities for people outside the Hanford area. People briefed on the report were vague about that finding and said it was not as significant as the failure to find a correlation between thyroid health and estimated radiation dose among residents of the Hanford area. People who question the accuracy of the results will probably look first to the quality of the dose estimates, said Timothy J. Connor, a leader of the Northwest Environmental Education Foundation, a nonprofit group in Spokane, Wash., and one of the first to seek money from Congress for a study of Hanford radiation effect, to be performed outside the Energy Department. Mr. Connor, named by the disease control agency to an advisory committee that helped oversee the new study, said he had confidence in the independence of the researchers. But he said that no matter how good they were, and how accurate the earlier data they used, their "dose reconstruction" would not be as precise as doses recorded from sources like medical procedures. Another issue, he said, is how the findings of this study would affect the current debate about a second study planned by some researchers. The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, a sister agency of the Centers for Disease Control, would like to monitor about 14,000 people in the Pacific Northwest for signs of health damage from Hanford, under a provision of the Superfund law. The Energy Department had said the study's costs were not justified, but later it proposed such a study to Congress. Congress instructed the Energy Department to negotiate with the Department of Health and Human Services on setting priorities on health worries around nuclear military sites. The study being released on Thursday is more far-reaching than most epidemiological studies because it does not simply tryto count people with a disease, but examines those with no health complaints. In the United States, no military or civilian site is believed to have emitted nearly as much radioactive iodine as Hanford. One release was deliberate, in an attempt to study how the material behaved in the environment and thus to draw conclusions about how much the former Soviet Union was releasing, and therefore how much nuclear weapons fuel it was making. But most of the releases were simply a result of the frantic haste to build nuclear weapons. The scale of the releases was not clear until thousands of pages of government documents were declassified in the 1980's.