Several studies found elevated cancer rates near Three Mile Island

 

Published in the Asbury Park Press, Feb. 4, 2005

 

By Eric Epstein 

 

   The Jan. 12 letter "Anti-nuclear argument flawed" from Dr. Letty Goodman 

Lutzker provided your readership with a textbook example of "junk science." 

 

Lutzker produced an unscientific and emotional argument in support of nuclear 

power: "These studies include those by the National Cancer Institute examining 

90,000 deaths both near to and distant from nuclear plants, and by a Three Mile 

Island citizens' group after the accident 25 years ago that found no health effects 

from the small amount of radioactivity released." 

The facts relating to Three Mile Island and health effects are well documented. 

There were door-to-door surveys conducted by citizens living close to TMI. Field 

research documented increased cancer incidences and mortalities in population 

pockets saturated by radioactive plumes. 

In 1984, the first Voluntary Community Health Study was undertaken by a 

group of local residents trained by Marjorie Aamodt. That study found a 600 

percent cancer death rate increase for three locations on the west shore of TMI 

directly in the plumes' pathway. The data were independently verified by 

experts from the TMI Public Health Fund. 

The following year, Jane Lee surveyed 409 families living in a housing 

development five miles from TMI. Lee documented 23 cancer deaths, 45 cancer 

incidences, 53 benign tumors, 31 miscarriages, stillbirths and deformities, and 

204 cases of respiratory problems. 

These local efforts were matched and documented by area researchers: 

Richard E. Webb moved to Harrisburg to conduct a health assessment. His 

Report on Infant Deaths found a "clear statistically significant increase of infant 

deaths in Dauphin County" in 1979 following the TMI accident. Webb used the 

Pennsylvania Health Department's vital statistics. 

A Penn State professor, Winston Richards, reported, "Infant mortality for 

Dauphin County, while average in 1978, becomes significantly above average 

in 1980. Death from leukemia, while average in 1979, is very close to above 

average in 1980, and deaths from cancer for ages 45-64, while average for 

1978, become decidedly significantly above average for 1980." 

James Fenwick, a researcher at Millersville University, found statistically 

significant increases of prostate, bladder and urinary cancers in men; increased 

kidney, renal, pelvis and ovarian cancer in women; and small increases in 

thyroid cancers among men and women. (April 1998)

Since Lutzker presented no documentation, I must presume the citizens' study 

she alluded to is the much-maligned Pennsylvania Department of Health's report 

released in September 1985. That study's protocol was ridiculed and criticized by 

epidemiologists at Harvard and Penn State for diluting increases in cancer by 

expanding the population base to include people living outside the 10-mile study 

zone. More specifically, the health department placed 28,610 people who lived 

five miles outside of TMI as actually living within five miles of the plant. And 

another 122,000 people who lived farther than 10 miles from the plant were 

included in the population of those living within 10 miles. 

Unfortunately, none of these studies evaluated the health impact to members of 

our community who worked on the cleanup of Three Mile Island-2. GPU Nuclear 

did not maintain a health or cancer registry from 1979-1989, even though 

5,000 cleanup workers received "measurable doses" of radiation exposure during 

the TMI-2 defueling.