Infant mortality spikes along US West Coast: Fukushima Fallout?

Is the Dramatic Increase in Baby Deaths in the US a Result of Fukushima Fallout?

By Janette D. Sherman, MD and Joseph Mangano
Counterpunch

U.S. babies are dying at an increased rate. While the United States spends billions on medical care, as of 2006, the US ranked 28th in the world in infant mortality, more than twice that of the lowest ranked countries.  (DHHS, CDC, National Center for Health Statistics.  Health United States 2010, Table 20, p. 131, February 2011.)

The recent CDC Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report indicates that eight cities in the northwest U.S. (Boise ID, Seattle WA, Portland OR, plus the northern California cities of Santa Cruz, Sacramento, San Francisco, San Jose, and Berkeley) reported the following data on deaths among those younger than one year of age:

4 weeks ending March 19, 2011 – 37 deaths (avg. 9.25 per week)
10 weeks ending May 28, 2011  – 125 deaths (avg.12.50 per week)

This amounts to an increase of 35% (the total for the entire U.S. rose about 2.3%), and is statistically significant.   Of further significance is that those dates include the four weeks before and the ten weeks after the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant disaster.  In 2001 the infant mortality was 6.834 per 1000 live births, increasing to 6.845 in 2007. All years from 2002 to 2007 were higher than the 2001 rate.

Spewing from the Fukushima reactor are radioactive isotopes including those of iodine (I-131), strontium (Sr-90) and cesium (Cs-134 and Cs-137) all of which are taken up in food and water.  Iodine is concentrated in the thyroid, Sr-90 in bones and teeth and Cs-134 and Cs-137 in soft tissues, including the heart.  The unborn and babies are more vulnerable because the cells are rapidly dividing and the delivered dose is proportionally larger than that delivered to an adult.

Data from Chernobyl, which exploded 25 years ago, clearly shows increased numbers of sick and weak newborns and increased numbers of deaths in the unborn and newborns, especially soon after the meltdown.  These occurred in Europe as well as the former Soviet Union. Similar findings are also seen in wildlife living in areas with increased radioactive fallout levels.
(Chernobyl – Consequences of the Catastrophe for People and the Environment,  Alexeiy    V. Yablokov, Vasily B. Nesterenko, and Alexey V. Nesterenko.  Consulting Editor:  Janette D. Sherman-Nevinger. New York Academy of Sciences, 2009.)

Levels of radioisotopes were measured in children who had died in the Minsk area that had received Chernobyl fallout.  The cardiac findings were the same as those seen in test animals that had been administered Cs-137.  Bandashevsky, Y. I, Pathology of Incorporated Ionizing Radiation, Belarus Technical University, Minsk. 136 pp., 1999.  For his pioneering work, Prof. Bandashevsky was arrested in 2001 and imprisoned for five years of an eight year sentence.

The national low-weight (under 2500 grams, or 5.5 lbs) rate has risen 23% from 1984 to 2006.  Nearly 400,000 infants are born under 2500g each year in the U.S.  Most of the increase in infant mortality is due  specifically to infants born weighing less than 750 grams (I lb 10 1/2 oz).  Multiple births commonly result in underweight babies, but most of the increase in births at less than 750 grams occurred among singletons and among mothers 20-34 years of age.  (CDC, National Vital Statistics Report, 52 (12): 1-24, 2005.)

From an obstetrical point of view, women in the age bracket 20 to 34 are those most physically able to deliver a healthy child.  So what has gone wrong?   Clues to causation are often revealed when there is a change in incidence, a suspicious geographical distribution, and/or an increase in hazards known to adversely affect health and development.

The risk of having a baby with birth defects is estimated at three to four of every 100 babies born.  As of 2005, the Institute of medicine estimated the cost of pre-term births in the US at more than $2.6 billion, or $51,600 for each infant.

Low birth weight babies, born too soon and too small, face a lifetime of health problems, including cerebral palsy, and behavioral and learning problems placing an enormous physical, emotional and economic burdens on society as a whole and on those caring for them.  Death of a young child is devastating to a family.

As of June 5, 2011, The Japan Times reported that radiation in the No. 1 plant was measured at 4,000 milliseverts per hour.  To put that in perspective, a worker would receive a maximal “permissible” dose in 4 minutes.  In addition there are over 40,000 tons of radioactive water under that reactor with more radioactivity escaping into the air and sea.  Fuel rods are believed to have melted and sunk to the bottom of reactors 1, 2, and 3.

Tepco, the corporate owner took more than two months to confirm the meltdowns and admitted lying about the levels of destruction and subsequent contamination, resulting in “Public Distrust.” Over 100,000 tons of radioactive waste are on the site.

Why should we care if there may be is a link between Fukushima and the death of children?  Because we need to measure the actual levels of isotopes in the environment and in the bodies of people exposed to determine if the fallout is killing our most vulnerable.  The research is not technically difficult – the political and economic barriers may be greater.  Bandshevsky and others did it and confirmed the connection.  The information is available in the Chernobyl book.  (Previously cited.)

The biological findings of Chernobyl cannot be ignored:  isotope incorporation will determine the future of all life on earth – animal, fish, bird, plant and human.  It is crucial to know this information if we are to avoid further catastrophic damage.

Janette D. Sherman, M. D. is the author of Life’s Delicate Balance: Causes and Prevention of Breast Cancer and Chemical Exposure and Disease, and is a specialist in internal medicine and toxicology. She edited the book Chernobyl: Consequences of the Catastrophe for People and Nature, written by A. V. Yablokov, V. B., Nesterenko and A. V. Nesterenko, published by the New York Academy of Sciences in 2009.  Her primary interest is the prevention of illness through public education.  She can be reached at:  toxdoc.js@verizon.net and www.janettesherman.com

Joseph Mangano is an epidemiologist, and Executive Director of the Radiation and Public Health Project research group.

18 responses to “Infant mortality spikes along US West Coast: Fukushima Fallout?

  1. This is such BS.

    They cherry-picked the cities and weeks to include in their tally to make it look like an increase in deaths when there isn’t any trend. Why include Boise and not include Tacoma or Spokane? Why not include Hawaii, which is a hell of a lot closer? All of these are in the data, but they omitted them.

    http://batchgeo.com/map/47afa51f11d75282284a2c6c34893dc5

    Why include only 4 weeks before the event but 10 weeks after? If you go to the original dataset (http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/) and include all the cities on the West coast, the number of deaths goes slightly down, not up.

    There’s no “dramatic increase” here, it’s just small random variations. Even if there were an increase, it’s absurd to jump to the conclusion that it’s caused by Fukushima just because they happened around the same time.

    Don’t believe everything some dope writes on the Internet.

    • Well said “ugh”, just because essay is by doctor and epidemiologist doesn’t mean we should automatically believe

    • don’t know about cherry picking the data — due to wind direction, hawaii missed the first blast

      • The arbitrary selection of some cities that are in the wind trajectory and not others is concerning, but ultimately not the biggest problem. The big problem is the selection of weeks. This is the real cherry-picking. If you look at the data before and after the event, and include more than 4 weeks prior, you will see that there is absolutely no trend. They cherry-picked a random variation and trumped it up as the end of the world.

  2. The commenter above has it exactly right. This claim of increased infant mortality correlating with the Fukushima accident is un-scientific and irresponsible, especially now that it has been “cited” by a source in an Al Jazeera article. Without additional data (fallout paths, historical mortality rates for all the cities in those paths, historical mortality rates following other natural disasters, etc), this claim is complete trash.

  3. “This amounts to an increase of 35% (the total for the entire U.S. rose about 2.3%), and is statistically significant”

    Where are data and statistics proving is statiscally significant? (to no mention cherry picking procedure)

    How was alleged causal relationship stablished?

    Sun is cooling down for a while, why don’t blame the solar radiation variability?.

    Did study acount for season dependency?.

  4. They never mention how many total births. It’s very possible that over those 10 weeks, there was a slightly higher birth rate over all.

  5. In the interest of science I made my own chart, using the same source data as the authors of the study. I included all data for 2011 (not just the most recent 14 weeks) and more cities. Here’s the result: http://imgur.com/PvPRL

    Please note I am NOT supporting nuclear power – just honest science. I am a physics student in Victoria and am not worried at all about radiation fallout affecting my health.

    I agree that this is the worst nuclear disaster ever, yet disagree that it is responsible for an increase in deaths in the US. I feel for the people of Japan, who ARE suffering hugely due to the radiation, and likely will continue to for many, many years to come

    • nice chart, mike — but the columns are so thin i can’t discern the colors.

      what I’d do with the data is make a chart of cities that were hit by radioactive winds and a chart of those that were not.

      that’d make the columns wider for one, and it would also provide for easy comparison.

      • Yes, a chart of west coast cities vs other cities, normalized by the birth rate for each group of cities.

        Though this doesn’t need to be done to convince me. There’s no mechanism by which radiation from Japan would kill babies in the US within a few days. But if the rabidly anti-nuke people need charts like this to change their minds, then maybe it’s worth doing.

        High schools should teach Critical Thinking classes, in which their students dissect articles like this and debunk or prove the claims within.

  6. The province of British Columbia today announced that infant mortality for the first six months of 2011 exceeded the infant mortality for all of 2010.

    Officials attribute the infant mortality spike to “poor parent training.”

    In the CBC story on the announcement, no mention was made of Fukushima.

  7. Pingback: August is a harvest of errors « your passport to complaining

  8. I am curious about the number of broken bones in children. Since Fukushima, our small school of sixty kids has had four broken arms. I know other schools have been experiencing a large number of broken arms in children. The minimal research that I have done says that the chemicals from radiation can ‘mimic’ calcium and get into the bones, thus weakening them. I am very curious because I do not think in the history of our school we have had so many broken bones, and for not big falls.

    • Is your school in Japan? Because if you’re not, the most likely explanation is paranoia and confirmation bias. Do you have records of every broken bone in the school, and you see a statistically significant increase? Or is this just selective memory?

    • i am concerned about the dangers of nuclear, but as for the broken bones mystery… has there been any change in the amount of cola being consumed? i’ve seen a number of email and ref’s to how the drinking of soda leads to less dense bones and, especially with 12 and teen girls, more broken bones.

      • although arguments have been made that it is not so much the coca cola that is consumed as the lack of nutritious drinks replaced that may be at cause for the weaker bones..

  9. There’s certainly a great deal to know about this topic. I like all of the points you made.

  10. Pingback: Fukushima Birth Defects Confirmed By Scientific Research Papers | The Health Coach

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