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Is the increase in baby deaths in the northwest U.S. due to Fukushima fallout? How can we find out?

June 9, 2011

Janette D. Sherman, MD, Joseph Mangano, MPH, MBA

“Greenpeace called on Japan on Thursday to evacuate children and pregnant women from a town about 60 kilometres (40 miles) from the stricken Fukushima nuclear plant because of high radiation,” reports AFP June 9. “Greenpeace says Fukushima's people face a ‘radiation catastrophe’ and an ‘information limbo.’” – Photo: Yoshikazu Tsuno, AFP
U.S. babies are dying at an increased rate. While the United States spends billions on medical care, as of 2006, the U.S. ranked 28th in the world in infant mortality, more than twice that of the lowest ranked countries. (See Table 20, page 131, “Health, United States, 2010,” issued by the Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and the National Center for Health Statistics in February 2011.)

The recent CDC Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report indicates that eight cities in the northwest U.S. – Boise, Idaho; Seattle, Wash.; Portland, Ore.; 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 (average 9.25 per week)
  • 10 weeks ending May 28, 2011: 125 deaths (average 12.50 per week)

This amounts to an increase of 35 percent – the total for the entire U.S. rose about 2.3 percent – and is statistically significant. Of further significance is that those dates include the four weeks before and the 10 weeks after the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant disaster. In 2001 U.S. infant mortality was 6.834 per 1,000 live births, increasing to 6.845 in 2007. All years from 2002 to 2007 were higher than the 2001 rate.

We have learned that there was a delay and false statements in releasing data about the amount of radiation coming from the Fukushima reactors. We know that huge amounts of radioactivity continue to pour into the Pacific Ocean, that winds and ocean currents flow from west to east, and that multiple news sources report radioactive cesium and iodine in milk, fruit and vegetables in the U.S. Adding to the problem of knowing the level of radioactive releases is that often amounts have been calculated, rather than actually measured.

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. (See “Chernobyl: Consequences of the Catastrophe for People and the Environment” by Alexey V. Yablokov, Vassily B. Nesterenko and Alexey V. Nesterenko. Consulting Editor Janette D. Sherman-Nevinger. New York Academy of Sciences, 2009.)

An earless bunny born near the severely damaged Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant has become the new face of nuclear concerns in Japan. High doses of radiation can cause such anomalies, but whether this bunny is truly a “nuclear rabbit,” as bloggers say, has not been verified. – Video frame via New York Daily News
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. (See “Pathology of Incorporated Ionizing Radiation” by Y.I. Bandashevsky, Belarus Technical University, Minsk, 136 pages, 1999. For his pioneering work, Professor Bandashevsky was arrested in 2001 and imprisoned for five years of an eight-year sentence.)

The national low-weight (under 2,500 grams, or 5.5 pounds) rate has risen 23 percent from 1984 to 2006. Nearly 400,000 infants are born under 2,500 grams each year in the U.S. Most of the increase in infant mortality is due specifically to infants born weighing less than 750 grams (1 pound, 10½ ounces). 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. (See CDC’s “National Vital Statistics Report,” 52 (12): 1-24, 2005.) Pre-term births are higher for African American women – 17.8 percent compared to 11.5 percent for white women.

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 U.S. 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 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 Fukushima plant was measured at 4,000 milliseverts per hour. To put that in perspective, a worker would receive a maximal “permissible” dose in four 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 water are on the site.

“Once in seawater, radiation can hurt ocean animals in several ways – by killing them outright, creating ‘bizarre mutations’ in their offspring or passing radioactive material up the food chain,” reports National Geographic.

Adding to the problem of actual levels of radioactive releases is that often amounts have been calculated, rather than measured.

How do we find out if there is a link between Fukushima and the death of children? By measuring the actual levels of isotopes in the environment and in the bodies of people exposed and to do this now in Japan and in the U.S. The research is not technically difficult. The political and economic barriers may be greater. Bandshevsky and others did it and confirmed a connection. The information is available in the Chernobyl book cited above.

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 Sherman is an internist and toxicologist and contributing editor of the book, “Chernobyl: Consequences of the Catastrophe for People and the Environment.” Visit her website, at www.janettesherman.com. Joseph Mangano is an epidemiologist and executive director of the Radiation and Public Health Project research group, www.radiation.org.

This video has been viewed by 1,910,816 people since it was posted May 21.

 

14 thoughts on “Is the increase in baby deaths in the northwest U.S. due to Fukushima fallout? How can we find out?

  1. alex555

    Levels are lows (below 0.05 mSv), that is, less then 0.25% of normal yearly dose of radiation. And these levels are EASY TO MEASURE since radiation is the EASIEST THING TO FIND IN THE WORLD (we can detect Kim Jong nuclear explosions from the other side of the globe…).

    We don't know what the impact of that radiation will be, but knowing we receive a lot more, it's certainly no apocalypse regarding radiation levels in US.

    Reply
    1. Savvy

      Your comments are ambiguous and seemingly have only one purpose, which appears to be distracting people from the real and life-threatening dangers posed by the incredibly poisonous radioactive fallout from Fukushima, which is now all over the northern hemisphere (and outside of Japan, the western half of north America is getting the most significant radioactive contamination).

      Since the beginning of the Fukushima catastrophe, radiation levels in the western half of north America have many times been measured at three-fold and higher than the usual expected "background" radiation levels (according to sources in a number of different states, ranging from the far north to the far south of the western half of the USA).

      If the usual "background" radiation dose rate is 2.5 mSv per year then this means that a radiation dose rate of at least 7.5 mSv per year is regularly being recorded. This is extremely significant, as it proves that radioactive fallout from Fukushima is in fact causing significant elevation of measurable radiation levels even 1000s of miles away from the three reactors in meltdown.

      A tripling of the yearly background radiation dose inherently results in a tripling of the radiation-caused cancers and deaths in a population, based on the "collective dose" methodology (for calculating the effects of low radiation doses in a large population) originally developed by the IAEA themselves.

      So, let us perform a simple calculation about the real effect of tripling the annual radiation exposure specifically in the places mentioned by this article, all of which have had real-time hourly radiation measurements since Fukushima that have been at least three-fold the usual "background" levels:

      * The population of the area under consideration (Idaho, Washington, Oregon, and northern California) is approximately 26.6 million people (according to the latest US government statistics).

      * A three-fold increase in measured radiation levels (7.5 mSv per year) means an increase by 5.0 mSv per year over the usual "background radiation" levels.

      * An increase of 5.0 mSv per year radiation "dose" in a population of 26.6 million gives a "collective dose" increase of 133,000 Sieverts per year.

      * 6 Sieverts (or 6,000 mSv) is generally accepted to be a lethal dose in 100% of cases.

      * 133,000 / 6 = 22,167 extra lethal "doses" of radiation per year (in the 26.6 million population).

      Reply
  2. alex555

    "by killing them outright"

    And you need at least 50 000 mSv in seconds to trigger instant death. 30 mSv over 3 month dosen't count.

    <<Even so, according to radioecologist F. Ward Whicker, the concentrations of iodine and cesium levels "would have to be orders of magnitude larger than the numbers I've seen to date to cause the kind of radiation doses to marine life that would cause mortality or reductions in reproductive potential.

    "I am very doubtful that direct effects of radioactivity from the damaged reactors on marine life over a large area off the coast of Japan will be observed," Whicker, professor emeritus at Colorado State University, said via email.
    >>

    Whoops, looks like cherry picking for the national geographic article you just cited.

    Beside, because of natural selection, the bad fish won't survive but the others will.

    Reply
  3. nuclearIsDangerous

    you pro nuclear/paid by nuclear power should feel then pain of every single child that has problems because of radiation.

    Reply
    1. Sigh

      I'm 100% fine with that, since no children will ever have any noticeable problems due to this radiation.

      And if you want to talk about people being paid to lie, look at Joe Magnano's anti-nuclear garbage on Fox News.

      Reply
  4. Ian

    Why is it only a handful of the cities from the western seaboard are used in the math? Could it be that there were no increases in infant deaths in any of the other cities?

    This math smells of confirmation bias.

    Reply
  5. Ian

    I just looked at the CDC documents for last year, same time period.

    Infant deaths to date in 2010 was 670, and this year? 674.

    The article and math is bogus.

    Reply
  6. @Shadow_L

    Could the increase in death possibly have anything to do with the Anti Vaccination movement? diminishing the herd protectiveness causes diseases long thought dead to return (pertussis anyone?). What about the pollution from coal power plants and plain old car exhaust we are all around every day? The increase of fertility treatments that use frozen embryos. Whats to say freezer burn isn't as likely there as it is on the burger at your next bbq. I think radiation MIGHT be part of the problem, but I think it is far down a list of possible causes.

    Reply
    1. Mattias Lantz

      First, there is no increase to talk about, see the plots in my link above.

      Secondly, the variations seen week by week have many causes, and when the statistics is relatively low the random variations can be quite large on a relative scale. If you have 3 dead infants one week and 4 the next week, will you then start looking for causes due to this "dramatic 33% increase"? This is part of the game that Sherman and Mangano is playing with us.

      If you want to find out about a specific cause above the "natural" rate (every infant death is a tragedy, but a large fraction of them are cases where the child might have been stillborn 50 years ago) you need much better statistics, and over a long time. Then you need to carefully try to rule out possible confounders, another difficult task where it is very easy to make mistakes. Then still you can have what seems to be a perfect correlation, but it may be due to something completely different. An absurd example: there is a famous study where the number of sighted storks over Germany correlated almost perfectly with the number of children born in Germany.

      The anti-vaccination movement starts to show effects in a number of European countries at the moment. I am not sure if it has affected infant mortality rates (and again, you need to make a much more careful study than what the charlatans Sherman and Mangano did), but it is quite clear when diseases that were practically eradicated ten years ago starts to show up again among children.

      Reply
  7. Jan Steinman

    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.

    Reply
  8. here

    With havin so much content do you ever run into any issues of plagorism or copyright infringement? My blog has a lot of unique content I've either written myself or outsourced but it seems a lot of it is popping it up all over the internet without my permission. Do you know any methods to help stop content from being stolen? I'd truly appreciate it.

    Reply

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