Monday, Feb. 24, 1997
12:01 AM Eastern Time

Three Mile Island Nuclear Accident Data Revisited

Exposure to radiation after the 1979 nuclear accident at Three Mile Island may have increased cancer among some Pennsylvanians downwind of the plant, according to a recalculation of data to be published Feb. 24 in Environmental Health Perspectives, the journal of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.

The controversial new study was carried out by Professor Steven Wing and colleagues at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The new study involved re-analyzing data from a 1990 report that concluded the nation's worst civilian nuclear accident was NOT responsible for excess cancers because radiation exposures were too low. However, the new analysis takes a contradictory position. Dr. Wing comments:

"Several hundred people at the time of the accident reported nausea, vomiting, hair loss and skin rashes, and a number said their pets died or had symptoms of radiation exposure. We figured that if that were possible, we ought to look at [the data] again. After adjusting for pre-accident cancer incidence, we found a striking increase in cancers downwind from Three Mile Island... I would be the first to say that our study doesn't prove by itself that there were high-level radiation exposures, but it is part of a body of evidence that is consistent with high exposures."

Last year, U.S. District Court Judge Sylvia Rambo dismissed more than 2,000 damage claims filed against the power plant by nearby residents. Dr. Wing complained, "After she threw out the evidence that people had been injured by the accident, including part of our work, then she ruled that there wasn't enough to proceed with the case."