A Chronology of Health Problems Related to Three Mile Island

 

The record indicates that in reporting to state and federal officials on 

March 28, 1979, TMI managers did not communicate information in their 

possession that they understood to be related to the severity of the 

situation. The lack of such information prevented state and federal 

officials from accurately assessing the condition of the plant. 

 

 

In addition, the record indicates that TMI managers presented state and federal 

officials misleading statements – statements that were inaccurate and 

incomplete, that conveyed the impression the accident was substantially 

less severe and the situation more under control than what the managers 

themselves believed and what was, in case, the fact. (“Reporting of 

Information Concerning The Accident At Three Mile Island,” A Report 

Prepared by the Majority Staff of the Committee On Interior and Insular 

Affairs of the U.S. House of Representatives, 97th Congress, First session, 

March 1981.) 

 

For 11 days, in June and July 1980, MetEd illegally vented 43,000 curies of 

radioactive Krypton-85 (beta and gamma, with a 10-year half life) and other 

radioactive gasses into the environment without having scrubbers in place (6).

 

In November 1980, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of 

Columbia ruled that the krypton venting (June-July, 1980) was illegal. 

  

In February 1981, a $20 million fund was set up to pay over 15,000 claims 

for affected area residents and business within the 25-mile radius of TMI.  

Another $5 million was set up to establish the TMI Public Health Fund. However, 

several years after the establishment of the TMI Public Health Fund (1986), 

TMI-Alert and area political representatives unsuccessfully petitioned the federal 

court to remove the Fund’s administrators due to nepotism and poor 

communication with the community. 

The lead attorney in the class action, David Berger of Philadelphia, 

received $1,389,06 ($25-$260 per hour); his family law firm billed $175,056  

and an additional $20,112 for report preparation. Legal bills totaled $2.5 

million, which was less than the $4 million the attorney requested from the 

Court. Judge Sylvia Rambo received the fees. 

 

March, 1982:  The American Journal of Public Health reported: “During 

the first two quarters of 1978, the neonatal mortality rate within a 10-mile 

radius of Three Mile Island was 8.6 and 7.6 per 1,000 live births, respectively.  

During the first quarter of 1979, following the startup of accident-prone Unit 2, 

the rate jumped to 17.2; it increased to 19.3 in the quarter following the 

accident at TMI and returned to 7.8 and 9.3, respectively, in the last two 

quarters of 1979.” (Dr. Gordon MacLeod, Secretary, Pennsylvania Department 

of Health).

 

In February 1983 11,000 claims for lost wages and evacuation expenses 

were settled for $2.35 million. 

 

July 24-27, 1984,  during the 159-ton reactor head lift, which was 

delayed due to polar crane failure, GPU vented radioactive gases into the 

environment despite pledges by the company and the NRC that no radioactive 

releases would occur. This is the time there has been direct access to Unit-2’s 

damaged fuel. GPU was fined $40,000 by the NRC for this violation. 

  

November 6, 1984 - Research conducted by the Department of Energy 

(DOE) on reactor damage during the accident, indicates temperatures may have 

reached in excess of 4,800 degrees. (See February 9, 1990, for follow-up 

research.) 

   

 1985 “  TMI’s owners and builders had paid more than $14 million for out- 

of-court settlements of personal injury lawsuits. The largest settlement was for a 

child born with Down’s Syndrome.($12.250 million paid to 280 plaintiffs and 

Orphans Court Cases.) 

 

On July 12, 1985, two workers who participated in the initial phase of the 

cleanup and contracted cancer, joined 2,500 area residents suing GPU. 

August,  1985: Marc Sheaffer, a psychologist at the Uniformed Services 

University of the health Sciences in Bethesda, released a study linking TMI- 

related stress with immunity impairments. (See August, 1987 and April, 1988, 

for related studies.) 

   

August, 1987:  James Rooney and Sandy Prince of Embury of Penn State 

University reported that chronically elevated levels of psychological stress have 

existed among Middletown residents since the accident. (See August, 1985 and 

April, 1988, for related studies.) 

 

April, 1988:  Andrew Baum, professor of medical psychology at the 

Uniformed Services University of the health Sciences in Bethesda discussed the 

results of his research on TMI residents in Psychology Today. “When we 

compared groups of people living near Three Mile Island with a similar group 

elsewhere, we found that the Three Mile Island group reported more physical 

complaints, such as headaches and back pain, as well as more anxiety and 

depression. We also uncovered long-term changes in levels of hormones...These 

hormones affect various bodily functions, including muscle tension, 

cardiovascular activity, overall metabolic rate and immune-system function...” 

(See August, 1985 and August, 1985, for related studies.) 

 1989: After ten years of defueling activities, 5,000 TMI workers have 

received “measurable doses” of radiation exposure. 

    

June, 1991:  Columbia University’s Health Study (Susser-Hatch) 

published results of their findings in the American Journal of Public Health. The 

study actually shows a more than doubling of all observed cancers after the 

accident at TMI-2, including:  lymphoma, leukemia, colon and the hormonal 

category of breast, endometrium, ovary, prostate and testis. For leukemia and 

lung cancers in the six to 12 km distance, the number observed was almost four 

times greater. In the 0-six km range, colon cancer was four times greater. The 

study found “a statistically significant relationship between incidence rates after 

the accident and residential proximity to the plant.” (See August, 1996 for Wing 

Study.) 

   

 By 1993,  TMI-2 had evaporated  2.3 million gallons of accident generated  

radioactive generated water, including tritium a radioactive form of hydrogen 

(half life; 12. 5 years),  into the atmosphere despite legal objections from 

community-based organizations.  

 

 June 4, 1996 - U.S. District Judge Sylvia H. Rambo granted summary 

judgment to GPU and its co-defendants in consolidated proceedings of more than 

2,000 personal injury claims arising from the  March 1979 accident at TMI. 

(See August 1996, November 2, 1999 and June 12, 2000 for related health suit 

activities.) 

 

August, 1996 - A study by the University of North Carolina-Chapel-Hill, 

authored by Dr. Steven Wing, reviewed the Susser-Hatch (Columbia University) 

study released in June 1991. Dr. Wing reported “...there were reports of 

erythema, hair loss, vomiting, and pet death near TMI at the time of the 

accident...Accident doses were positively associated with cancer incidence. 

Associations were largest for leukemia, intermediate for lung cancer, and 

smallest for all cancers combined...Inhaled radionuclide contamination could 

differentially impact lung cancers, which show a clear dose-related increase.” 

(See June 4, 1996, November 2, 1999 and June 12, 2000, for related 

developments on TMI health claims.) 

       By 1996, the plant's owners,  co-defendants and  insurers have paid over 

$80 million in health, economic and evacuation claims, including a $1.1 

million settlement for a baby born with Down's Syndrome. 

 

November  2, 1999 -The Third Circuit Court of Appeals “revived the the 

rest of the lawsuits [1,990], citing those individuals constitutional right to have 

their cases heard by a jury.” The Circuit Court upheld U.S. District Chief Judge 

Sylvia H. Rambo’s “ruling on the expert testimony and the dismissal of the 10 

[test cases.” (Pennsylvania Law Weekly, June 12, 200). (Also refer to June 14 

and August 1996 and June 12, for United States Supreme Court rejection of 

GPU’s appeals.) 

 

June 12, 2000:  The United States Supreme Court , without comment, 

rejected an appeal by GPU to throw out 1,990 health suits. (Please refer to  June 

4 and August 1996 and November 2 1999, and May 2, 2001, for related 

developments.) 

May 2, 2001:  The Third Circuit Court ruled that “new theories” to 

support medical claims against Three Mile island will not be allowed. (Please 

refer to  June 4 and August 1996 and November 2 1999, and July 12, 2000, for 

related developments.) 

Throid cancer, 1995-2002: Dr. Roger Levin,  chief division of 

otolaryngology/head and neck surgery, PinnacleHealth System in Harrisburg, 

and clinical associate professor of surgery, Penn State College of Medicine. Levin 

did his research so he could join The Triological Society, a society for ear, nose 

and throat specialists and head and neck surgeons. His paper is scheduled to be 

published in the society's peer-reviewed journal, The Laryngoscope, in an 

upcoming month. 

 

Findings: In reviewing state health data, Levin found more thyroid cancer 

cases than expected in York County for every year except one between 1995 and 

2002. One plausible reason could be people were exposed to radiation during the 

1979 Three Mile Island accident, he said. 

 

 November, 2003:  “Objectivity and Ethics in Environmental Health 

Science” was published by Dr. Steve Wing, Department of Epidemiology, School 

of Public Health UN-Chapel Hill.  Dr. Wing discussed “research into health effects 

of the 1979 accident at Three Mile Island...as an example of how scientific 

explanations are shaped by social concepts, norms and prec onceptions” 

(Environmental Health Perspectives, Volume 111, Number 1 , November 2003, 

pp. 1809-1818). 

Dr. Wing concluded: 

  Many rural people living near TMI [Three Mile Island] had modest 

levels of formal schooling and little experience in being assertive with 

government and industry officials. Those that spoke about their 

experiences of physical problems from the accident endured ridicule.   

The Aamodts [Marjorie and Norman] were able to influence the TMI 

Public Health Fund’s sponsored research on physical impacts of the 

accident by initiating their own survey, researching government 

records, and petitioning the NRC. Other residents who lived within 

the 10-mile area also conducted surveys, constructed disease maps, 

and documented damage to plants and animals (Osborn 1996; Three 

Mile Island Alert 1999.) 

However, when health studies were undertaken 

through official channels, citizens who believed that had been affect 

but accident emissions and their supporters were not included in the 

framing of the questions, study design, analysis, interpretation or 

communication of results. The studies themselves were funded by the 

nuclear industry and conducted under court-ordered constraints, and 

a priori assumptions precluded interpretation and observations 

as support for the hypotheses under investigation... 

 The naive approach to objectivity, represented in the Daubert 

criteria, contends that scientists can produce unbiased evidence by 

standing apart from legal conflicts and adhering to normative science  

The problem with this position is that scientific questions and the 

details of the specific working hypotheses emerge from conflicts, 

which also influence the assumptions that frame methodologies used 

to produce evidence and interpretations of the meaning of 

 evidence... 

Pretending that there are no assumptions embedded in scientific 

methodology conceals and reenforces existing inequalities”