In a recent post in Truth-out.org (h/t to my brother, Tim) there is an excellent discussion of the work that Dr. Barry Commonger did. He collected baby teeth and did assays for strontium 90. The text is worth quoting:
In order to demonstrate that fallout was widespread and had worked its way into the population, a group of researchers, headed by Dr. Barry Commoner and Drs. Louise and Eric Reiss, founded the Baby Tooth Survey under the auspices of Washington University (where Commoner then taught) and the St. Louis Citizens’ Committee for Nuclear Information. The tooth survey sought to track strontium-90 (Sr-90), a radioactive isotope of the alkaline earth metal strontium, which occurs as a result – and only as a result – of nuclear fission. Sr-90 is structurally similar to calcium, and so, once in the body, works its way into bones and teeth.
While harvesting human bones was impractical, researchers realized that baby teeth should be readily available. Most strontium in baby teeth would transfer from mother to fetus during pregnancy, and so birth records would provide accurate data about where and when those teeth were formed. The tooth survey collected baby teeth, initially from the St. Louis area, eventually from around the globe, and analyzed them for strontium.
By the early ’60s, the program had collected well over a quarter-million teeth, and ultimately found that children in St. Louis in 1963 had 50 times more Sr-90 in them than children born in 1950. Armed with preliminary results from this survey and a petition signed by thousands of scientists worldwide, Dr. Commoner successfullylobbied President John F. Kennedy to negotiate and sign the Partial Test Ban Treaty, halting atmospheric nuclear tests by the US, UK and USSR. By the end of the decade, strontium-90 levels in newly collected baby teeth were substantially lower than the ’63 samples.
The initial survey, which ended in 1970, continues to have relevance today. Some 85,000 teeth not used in the original project were turned over to researchers at the Radiation and Public Health Project (RPHP) in 2001. The RPHP study, released in 2010, found that donors from the Baby Tooth Survey who had died of cancer before age 50 averaged over twice the Sr-90 in their samples compared with those who had lived past their 50th birthday.
But the perils of strontium-90 – or, indeed, a host of radioactive isotopes that are strontium’s travel companions – did not cease with the ban on atmospheric nuclear tests. Many of the hazards of fallout could also be associated with the radiological pollution that is part-and-parcel of nuclear power generation. The controlled fission in a nuclear reactor produces all of the elements created in the uncontrolled fission of a nuclear explosion. This point was brought home by the RPHP work, when it found strontium-90 was 30- to 50-percent higher in baby teeth collected from children born in “nuclear counties,” (PDF) the roughly 40 percent of US counties situated within 100 miles of a nuclear power plant or weapons lab.
In Japan, TEPCO – still the official operator of Fukushima Daiichi – revealed it hadfound Sr-90 in groundwater surrounding the crippled nuclear plant at “very high” levels. Between December 2012 and May 2013, levels of strontium-90 increased over 100-fold, to 1,000 becquerels per liter – 33 times the Japanese limit for the radioactive isotope.
The samples were taken less than 100 feet from the coast. From that point, reports say, the water usually flows out to the Pacific Ocean.
Beyond the concerns raised by the effects of the strontium-90 (and the dangerously high amounts of tritium detected along with it) when the radioactive contamination enters the food chain, the rising levels of Sr-90 likely indicate other serious problems at Fukushima. Most obviously, there is now little doubt that TEPCO has failed to contain contaminated water leaking from the damaged reactor buildings – contrary to the narrative preferred by company officials.
But skyrocketing levels of strontium-90 could also suggest that the isotope is still being produced – that nuclear fission is still occurring in one or more of the damaged reactor cores. Or even, perhaps, outside the reactors, as the corium (the term for the molten, lava-like nuclear fuel after a meltdown) in as many as three units is believed to have melted through the steel reactor containment and possibly eroded the concrete floor, as well.
Strontium has been polluting the earth since the beginning of the nuclear age. It has been taken up in the teeth of the newborn. High levels are associated with cancer before the age of 50. High levels are found in counties near nuclear reactors.
Individuals trying to get Information about the release of radioactive substances using the Freedom of Information Act are finding material being redacted. Since when are corporations protected as part o the national security state?
- National › TEPCO finds highly toxic strontium in Fukushima plant groundwater (japantoday.com)
- Toxic substance in Fukushima water (bbc.co.uk)
- Fukushima radioactive groundwater rises (bigpondnews.com)