Jewish World Review April 2, 2004 /12 Nissan 5764
Drs. Michael A. Glueck & Robert J. Cihak
Radiation monster slain
The Geiger counter chatters. The glowing monster rises out of the greenish water. "It's ... radioactive." And everybody knows we're in big trouble.
So went the Moment of Truth line from several hundred grade-B-and-worse sci-fi movies of the '50s.
The image sticks even among those of us who've never seen such movies. It's part of our cultural DNA, this notion that ionizing radiation in any amount is always and forever bad for you. Scientists call this the linear no-threshold hypothesis (LNT). Only problem is, it's scientifically wrong, emotionally pernicious and economically damaging.
Every doctor knows, and common sense indicates, that nothing - and everything - is poisonous. It all depends on the dosage.
Further, your Medicine Men have long observed that most people don't get enough radiation. Now comes a story that provides some remarkable additional corroboration.
In Taiwan, an estimated 10,000 Taiwanese people received low doses of radiation for up to 20 years. Many continue to do so in an "unintended experiment" which again demonstrates that supplemental low doses of radiation are indeed good for you.
These Taiwanese people lived in some 1,700 apartments that used construction steel accidentally mixed with discarded cobalt-60 radiation sources. Cobalt-60 is a radioactive isotope of cobalt used as a source of gamma rays for human radiation therapy treatment, preserving food freshness and making X-ray images of metal parts.
These apartment buildings were built between 1982 and 1984; the radioactivity was discovered over several years, starting in 1992. The radiation dosage has been steadily decreasing, due to the natural decay of radioactivity with time, a phenomenon called "half-life."
The half-life of cobalt-60 is 5.3 years, which means that the radiation released drops by half every 5.3 years. After 10.6 years, the rate is one-quarter the original rate. After four half-lives, or 21.2 years for cobalt-60, the rate is one-sixteenth the original rate.
Had this discovery been made in America, the result would have been media histrionics, about three zillion lawsuits, extensive congressional posturing leading to more incomprehensible and unnecessary regulation, perhaps even a grade-B-or-worse movie in which the scientist heroine whispers ominous phrases such as "It's radioactive."
Fortunately, over in Taiwan, some scientists decided to take a look at what had actually happened to the people accidentally exposed.
In the Spring 2004 issue of the Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons, W.L. Chen, director of the Department of Medical Radiation Technology at National Yang-Ming University and Head of the Radiation Protection Department of the Atomic Energy Council (AEC) of Taiwan, plus more than a dozen co-author scientists describe this "serendipitous experiment" and report some preliminary findings in "Is Chronic Radiation an Effective Prophylaxis Against Cancer?" [http://www.jpands.org/vol9no1/chen.pdf] These preliminary observations are striking.
The authors estimate that these people received an average of 0.4 Sievert (Sv), a measure of absorbed ionizing radiation dose, over their years of exposure. This is more than 10 times the dose other Taiwanese receive from natural background radiation. Conventional wisdom and current regulatory precautions would suggest an epidemic of cancer and related diseases. In fact, rather the opposite occurred.
For example, during the 1983-2002 period, the average cancer mortality in Taiwan was 116 deaths per 100,000 person-years. But for the people receiving the supplemental radiation, the number was 3.5 deaths per 100,000 person-years - only 3 percent of the rate for the general Taiwanese population!
Further, the rate of significant birth deformities or congenital malformations, including conditions such as heart disease, Down syndrome and cerebral palsy, was 6.5 percent of the rate in the general population, also strikingly lower than expected - and also the opposite of what the linear no-threshold hypothesis (LNT) predicts.
The authors also report that the chromosome studies done for the AEC "indicated that groups that received higher doses seemed to have lower levels of chromosome aberrations."
Also, "Medical examinations did not reveal the presence of any harmful radiation sickness syndromes. ..." Hospital officials "had no evidence that the radiation had caused any harmful effects."
These findings will be refined over time. Future studies will review the age distribution, plus the overall health and mortality of these people in future years.
Other human populations exposed to ionizing radiation, for example nuclear shipyard workers in this country and radiologists in England, show decreased cancer deaths and increased longevity among those receiving supplemental radiation. So it's likely that further studies of this Taiwanese population will be at least as striking.
Why does this matter? One reason, obviously, is that government policy based on wrong - indeed, willfully wrong - junk science makes for lousy policy.
All of these findings contradict the outdated and superstitious idea that every little bit of radiation humans receive adds to the potential for cancer or other problems. Yet this disproven linear no-threshold hypothesis remains the basis for radiation protection standards, inflicting huge economic and health costs around the world.
Radiation, Science, and Health, Inc.(RSH), an international nonprofit organization of independent individuals knowledgeable about radiation health effects science, estimates "Public radiation protection costs/funds exceed U.S. $1 trillion that provide NO public health benefit." And this doesn't include the costs of the burgeoning civilian "radiation protection" industry, that feeds off phobias about things ranging from radioactive dirty bombs to basement radon to medical uses of radiation.
We humans already have more than enough real problems to worry about.
Editor's Note: Robert J. Cihak wrote this week's column. He has edited some of the publications on the Radiation, Science, and Health website.
Michael Arnold Glueck, M.D., is a multiple award winning writer who comments
on medical-legal issues. Robert J. Cihak, M.D., is a Discovery Institute
Senior Fellow and a past president of the Association of American Physicians
and Surgeons. Both JWR contributors are Harvard trained diagnostic radiologists.
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