- WASHINGTON - Radioactive
fallout from Cold War nuclear weapons tests across the globe probably caused
at least 15,000 cancer deaths in U.S. residents born after 1951, according
to data from an unreleased federal study.
- The study, coupled with findings from previous government
investigations, suggests that 20,000 non-fatal cancers -- and possibly
many more -- also can be tied to fallout from aboveground weapons tests.
- The study shows that far more fallout than previously
known reached the USA from nuclear tests in the former Soviet Union and
on several Pacific islands used for U.S. and British exercises. It also
finds that fallout from scores of U.S. trials at the Nevada Test Site spread
substantial amounts of radioactivity across broad swaths of the country.
When fallout from all tests, domestic and foreign, is taken together, no
U.S. resident born after 1951 escaped exposure, the study says.
- The study is the government's first effort to assess
the nationwide effects of all forms of radiation from the hundreds of aboveground
nuclear blasts detonated worldwide before such testing was banned in 1963.
The cancer estimates add a new human toll to the Cold War and raise profound
public policy questions, including whether the government should do cancer
screenings in high-fallout areas.
- USA TODAY obtained portions of the study, which was supposed
to be finished more than a year ago.
- ''There should be no more waiting,'' says Sen. Tom Harkin,
D-Iowa, who pushed the Department of Health and Human Services to conduct
the study in 1998. ''People are still waiting for real communication on
their exposure risks and steps they can take.''
- The study's estimates of radiation dispersal are based
on complex computer analyses of weather patterns, population trends and
other data that can help gauge public exposure to fallout from aboveground
The cancer figures are a general nationwide estimate -- there is no way
to link specific cases to fallout. The study does not assess cancer risks
in other countries.
The data show that global fallout blanketed much of the USA, with heavy
pockets in Iowa, Tennessee, California, Oregon, Washington and Idaho. Fallout
from the Nevada tests settled more in the mountain and Midwest states,
including Utah, Idaho, Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa and Missouri.
The study measures exposure to an array of fallout elements based on county
of residence, birth date and factors such as consumption of foods that
It concludes that about 22,000 cancers, half of them fatal, probably occurred
from external exposure to radioactive fallout. Those could include everything
from melanoma to breast cancer.
The study attributes thousands of additional cancers to internal radiation
exposure, such as inhalation or eating tainted food. Those cancers include
at least 550 fatal leukemias and about 2,500 thyroid cancer deaths.
Nuclear weapons powers ''owe the world a real accounting of what they did
to its health,'' says Arjun Makhijani of the Institute for Energy and Environmental
Research. ''The U.S. has been the only honest country so far.''
- Copyright © 2002 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett