Federal Long Island Breast Cancer Results Lacking

This column ran in East Hampton Star, Southampton Press, other Long Island newspapers, this week.

By Karl Grossman

Friday, August 23, 2002

Results have been announced of the multi-million dollar federal Long Island Breast Cancer Study--that no links have been found between breast cancer here and several chemicals studied--and Newsday has devoted a series to the study’s inconclusive outcome and the New York Times featured it on the front page of its "Week in Review" section.

One word is not mentioned in the Newsday or New York Times articles: radioactivity. That is because radioactivity was specifically not part of the study.

This is an outrage to those who believe that in analyzing the high rates of breast cancer on Long Island, the impacts of radioactivity from the nuclear power plants that surround Long Island and the reactors at Brookhaven National Laboratory--smack in the middle of Long Island--must be analyzed, too.

Dr. Janette Sherman, an internist and toxicologist, noted in a letter published in Saturday’s New York Times, that a "critical" omission was cited in the federal study "even before the study began…addressing exposures to nuclear radiation."

"Long Island is home to the leaking Brookhaven Lab and downwind from nuclear power reactors in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut," Dr. Sherman wrote in her Times letter. She spoke of Long Islanders being "exposed" to more than 200 radioactive substances, "all demonstrated carcinogens. Many studies have linked nuclear releases with cancer… Radioactive isotopes are easily measured in tissues and the environment, but this research tool was dismissed for the study."

Radioactivity, said Dr. Sherman in an interview this week, was something the study "wanted to stay away from" because documentation of its health impacts could upset "the economic investment in nuclear technology," As a result, she said, the study was performed to be "inconclusive by design."

Dr. Sherman is author of the 2000 book "Life’s Delicate Balance: Causes and Prevention of Breast Cancer" which includes chapters titled "The Breast Cancer Epidemic on Long Island" and "Radiation--Bikini Island to Long Island." She describes in her book how "Long Island breast cancer activists urged inclusion of radiation issues" in the Long Island Breast Cancer Studyand were rebuffed. The efforts of Mary Joan Shea are specifically cited.

Ms. Shea said this week she considers radioactivity "a big part of the picture" as a breast cancer cause on Long Island and charged it was omitted from the study "because there is a big financial interest in maintaining the status quo--there is a lot of money involved."

Research on the Long Island Breast Cancer Study was coordinated by Columbia University and Alice Slater, president of the Global Resource Action Center for the Environment (GRACE), tells of a meeting with a high Columbia official about it leaving out radioactivity. "When we saw the parameters of the study, we were very concerned. Why were they not looking at radioactivity?" recounted Ms. Slater this week.

The Columbia administrator "was very candid," said Ms. Slater, an attorney. "He told us this is a National Institutes of Health study and the NIH does not want to step on the toes of the Department of Energy." A mission of the Department of Energy is promoting nuclear power and it owns Brookhaven National Laboratory.

"Not to look at radiation is absolutely bizarre," said Ms. Slater. "Brookhaven Lab has been dripping plutonium and Strontium 90 into our water and emitting radiation from its stacks."

To Ms. Slater, the Long Island radioactivity omission parallels a global radiation omission--about which she has spoken out. An agreement between the World Health Organization and International Atomic Energy Agency, both United Nations-created bodies--a copy of which she faxed me--states: "Whenever either organization proposes to initiate a program or activity on a subject in which the organization has or may have a substantial interest, the first party shall consult the other with a view to adjusting the matter."

What this has meant, says Ms. Slater, is that "the World Health Organization, the global organization to do research on health trends on this planet, does no research on radiation unless the project is approved by the International Atomic Energy Agency, set up to promote nuclear power and dominated by the nuclear industry, and WHO cannot report the results of its findings unless they are cleared by the IAEA."

Meanwhile, a move is now on change the limits of radiation exposure in the U.S. A Biological Effects of Radiation (BEIR) panel of the National Academy of Sciences is to make recommendations to the federal government. The panel is dominated by those who believe radiation is not as dangerous as thought and there is even interest in the notion of "hormesis"--that a little radiation is good for people, that it helps exercise the immune system.

Do you get the feeling we’re not being protected? You’re right.