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.