By Rady Ananda
An Activist Post Special Report
Thyroid cancer cases have more than doubled since 1997 in the U.S., while deadly industrial practices that contaminate groundwater with radiation and other carcinogens are also rising.
New information released by the U.S. National Cancer Institute (NCI) estimates that 56,460 people will develop thyroid cancer in 2012 and 1,780 will die from it.
That’s up from 16,000 thyroid cancer cases in 1997 – a whopping 253% increase in fifteen years, while the US population went up only 18%.
From 1980 to 1996, thyroid cancer increased nearly 300%, while the population increased by (again) 18%.
Most thyroid cancers don’t develop for 10-30 years after radiation exposure, but the monstrous spike in thyroid cancer from 1980-2012 is only partly the result of Pennsylvania’s Three Mile Island nuclear accident in 1979 (TMI).
Pennsylvania, with its nine nuclear reactors, does have the highest incidence of thyroid cancer across nearly all demographics among 45* states, reports epidemiologist Joseph Mangano, MPH MBA, of the Radiation and Public Health Project. In 2009, he analyzed data from the Centers for Disease Control’s national survey of thyroid cancer incidence for the years 2001-2005 and compared it with proximity to nuclear power stations, finding:
“[M]ost U.S. counties with the highest thyroid cancer incidence are in a contiguous area of eastern Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and southern New York. Exposure to radioactive iodine emissions from 16 nuclear power reactors within a 90 mile radius in this area … are likely a cause of rising incidence rates.”
TMI also can’t explain why the thyroid cancer rate for the four counties flanking Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant in New York was 66% above the national rate in 2001-2005.
Other, more subtle sources may also be contributing to hiked thyroid cancer rates, like leaking nuclear power plants and hydraulic fracturing, both of which contaminate air, soil and groundwater with radiation and other nasty chemicals.
Indeed, remarking on this, Mangano (who recently co-authored a controversial study with toxicologist Janette Sherman suggesting a link between Fukushima fallout and US cancer deaths numbering from 14,000 to 20,000) said:
“From 1970-1993, Indian Point released 17.50 curies of airborne I-131 and particulates…. [That] amount exceeded the official total of 14.20 curies released from the 1979 Three Mile Island accident. In 2007, officials that operate the Indian Point plant reported levels of I-131 in the local air, water, and milk, each of which is a potential vector for ingestion.”
Iodine-131, or I-131, is a radioactive isotope produced by nuclear fission.
Fracking a ‘Dirty Bomb’
Radiation isn’t released into the environment only via nuclear plants and bombs. Geologist Tracy Bank found that fracking mobilizes rock-bound uranium, posing a further radiation risk to our groundwater. She presented her findings at the American Geological Society meeting in Denver last November.
Because of some 65 hazardous chemicals used in fracking operations, former industry insider, James Northrup, calls it a “dirty bomb.” With 30 years of experience as an independent oil and gas producer, he explains:
“The volume of fluid in a hydrofrack can exceed three million gallons, or almost 24 million pounds of fluid, about the same weight as 7,500 automobiles. The fracking fluid contains chemicals that would be illegal to use in warfare under the rules of the Geneva Convention. This all adds up to a massive explosion of a ‘dirty bomb’ underground.”
What’s underground seeps into our groundwater.
Thomas House and his wife have become ill since New Dominion, LLC began drilling for oil and gas behind their home in Wellston, Oklahoma. He’s tested the water for barium and strontium, and indoor air quality for BTEX (benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, xylenes and styrenes).
Though none of the levels exceed EPA standards, he insists the drilling operations are causing their illness.
“We have been getting sick from headaches, nose bleeds, rashes, vomiting, burning eyes, and breathing problems for the last year,” he told me.
House is reliant on the Veterans Administration for health care, but it refuses to test him for BTEX poisoning.
Radioactive Drinking Water
Though scientists have associated thyroid cancer with water supplies contaminated by nitrates (another knock against industrial agriculture), it is usually indicative of radiation poisoning, as the thyroid sucks up iodine – radioactive or not. Those with not enough iodine in their diets are more susceptible to absorbing I-131.
NCI says that the main sources of radiation exposure are X-rays, nuclear fallout and radiated food and drinking water. The Centers for Disease Control reports that women are three times more susceptible to thyroid cancer than men, with white women being most susceptible. Rather than noticing any symptoms, most often, they discover a lump on their neck.
The good news is that 95 percent of thyroid cancer is successfully treated.
The bad news is that radiation exposure is also coming from our food and water supply.
For over a year, a Houston news station has been reporting on a governmental cover-up of radiation in drinking water. KHOU says that the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality under-reported radioactive contaminants in drinking water for over 20 years.
But not just Texas authorities, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has also low-balled radiation stats by simply not looking for specific radioactive elements, which can be more common and more dangerous than, say, Strontium-90.
Eventually, Texas shut-down two of Houston’s water wells shown to be radioactive.
From an investigative series by the Associated Press last year, we learned that 75 percent of US nuclear power plants leak radioactive materials. Documents from 48 of 65 commercial nuclear power sites showed that radioactive tritium leaked – often into groundwater – in concentrations exceeding the federal drinking water standard, and sometimes at hundreds of times the limit.
Nukes, Fracking and Earthquakes
The global fallout from Fukushima’s nuclear meltdown means our food and water absorbed radioactive fallout. But, we also see an increasing number of earthquakes from fracking operations that further threaten nuclear plants, which are old, leaking and “brittle” (AP’s word).
Information compiled by Treehugger last year showed that of the 104 commercial nuclear power plants and 34 nuclear research stations, many sit in seismically active locations.
Though earthquake risk in Texas is considered very low, last October, Atascosa County saw a rare 4.8 magnitude quake centered 130 miles from the South Texas Project nuclear power plant. The temblor originated in Fashing Field, a highly productive oil and gas field. One company, Momentum Oil and Gas, is producing 3.8 million cubic feet of gas per day from the field.
Many states that normally had very low seismicity have seen an incredible upswing in earthquake frequency with the advent of hydraulic fracturing, which the feds have long known about. As far back as 1966, federal authorities suspected the fracking-earthquake link so strongly that they shut down Rocky Mountain Arsenal’s 12,000-foot injection well after several quakes rattled Denver.
In 1981, researchers suggested that mobile pressure dynamics could explain epicenters some ways distant from such wells.
Ohio recently shut down two fracking waste injection wells after a New Year’s Eve earthquake, and last November New York imposed a statewide moratorium. Ohio has two nuclear power plants (both on Lake Erie) and New York has five, operating six reactors.
Ohio’s 5.0 earthquake on January 31, 1986 that rocked eleven states and Ontario, Canada was centered 11 miles south of the Perry Nuclear Plant. Researchers suggested the quake was induced by fracking, writing in 1988:
“Three deep waste disposal wells are currently operating within 15 km of the epicentral region and have been responsible for the injection of nearly 1.2 billion liters of fluid at pressures reaching 112 bars above ambient at a nominal depth of 1.8 km. Estimates of stress inferred from commercial hydrofracturing measurements suggest that the state of stress in northeastern Ohio is close to the theoretical threshold for failure along favorably oriented, preexisting fractures.”
Not only preexisting fractures, but new ones created by the massive surge in earthquake swarms also present a risk. As modern horizontal fracturing techniques are employed, earthquake frequency goes up.
From 1900-1970, Arkansas experienced 60 earthquakes. After fracking operations picked up in the mid-1970s, that number jumped exponentially. Per the Advanced National Seismic System, in 2010 alone, Arkansas felt over 700 earthquakes; in 2011, it endured over 800.
The number of quakes in 2010 and ’11 represents a 2,400% increase over the number of quakes in the first 70 years of the 20th century, before horizontal fracking began. With that spike in frequency, is it any wonder that a new fault has opened up in Arkansas? Geologists say the new fault shows a history of 7+ magnitude earthquakes.
Though the 2001-2005 thyroid incidence data reveals that Arkansas has the lowest incidence of thyroid cancer of all 45 states surveyed, that may change should the new fault become seismically active and damage the state’s two 40-year-old nuclear reactors.
Of note, Arkansas’ nuclear reactors are run by Entergy, which operates eleven others including 40-year-old Vermont Yankee (strontium-90 found in nearby fish last August) and New York’s nearly 40-year-old Indian Point (failed inspection and sought over 100 safety exemptions last year).
Pennsylvania is another strong fracking state, vulnerable to earthquakes originating within or outside its borders. It also houses nine nuclear reactors at five locations. A swarm of small earthquakes occurred near Dillsburg from 2008 until early 2011, reports the state’s Dept. of Conservation and Natural Resources.
Dillsburg is 16 miles from Three Mile Island, which still operates one nuclear reactor.
Last August, most of the east coast felt a 5.8 magnitude quake whose epicenter is just 11 miles from two reactors at the North Anna nuclear power plant in Virginia. Both 30-year-old reactors had to be shut down. RT reports:
“The odds of a quake exceeding a magnitude of 5.5 occurring in central Virginia are so slim that Dominion Power determined only around six quakes of that size would occur in the area over the next 10,000 years.”
Protect Your Water Supply
Radioactive particles damage bones, DNA and tissue, including the thyroid. Water softeners, ion exchange, carbon filters or reverse osmosis water-treatment systems can be installed in the home to reduce concentration levels. The National Sanitation Foundation certifies various products for efficacy in reducing or eliminating particular contaminants.
To reduce or eliminate radiation from food and water, see this compilation of articles recommending various techniques, including washing your vegetables in bentonite clay.
A more proactive way to protect the water supply is to decommission nuclear power plants and ban hydraulic fracturing, lest your hometown ranks among the 10 Most Radioactive Places on Earth.
*When the CDC surveyed states for thyroid cancer in its landmark 2001-2005 study, it neglected to publish data for Maryland, Mississippi, Tennessee, Virginia, and Wisconsin.