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The Public's Right to Know

NOT A WORD of the findings reported at Hanford appeared in the national press or the other public news media. No science writers had been present, and none of the wire services had covered the meeting, held in a remote part of the country. Yet in view of the accumulated evidence presented at Hanford, it was now clear that the sensitivity of the early embryo was so great that if a nuclear war ever broke out only the more resistant reptiles and insects would survive the lingering radiation.

In June 1969 I wrote a letter to The New York Times describing the Hanford findings and their implications for the ABM debate. Shortly after the letter appeared, I received a phone call from the New York correspondent of The London Observer, Joyce Egginton. The first thing Miss Egginton asked was why there had not been any stories about these startling findings either in the news section of The New York Times or in any other newspapers served by the national wire services. In particular, she wondered why nothing had been reported about my findings in view of the fact that I had just presented them again at a recent meeting of the Health Physics Society. There, the University of Pittsburgh's public relations department had made arrangements with the public relations department of the Health Physics Society for an interview with an individual who stated that he wanted to write a story on my work for the Associated Press. After the presentation of my paper, this individual introduced himself, stating that he was in charge of the newsroom for the Society but also often wrote stories for the Associated Press. He already had much of the story written and merely wanted to check certain details. It seemed to be quite a good account. But his story was never carried by the Associated Press. Not until later did it become clear what had happened.

Meanwhile, the editor of Esquire, Harold Hayes, called soon after Joyce Egginton to ask whether I would be willing to write a story on my findings for his magazine. In view of the fact that the general public had heard nothing at all of the findings presented in Pittsburgh or at Hanford, I accepted.

A week or two later, I received a call from Hal Stromholt, a writer for the Associated Press office in Pittsburgh. He said that the AP had asked him to do a story on my findings presented at the recent Health Physics Society meeting, which Joyce Egginton had just reported in The London Observer. I asked him why the AP had not carried the story that had been written for it many weeks before. Surprised, Stromholt asked the name of the man who had done this earlier story. I told him, and he then said that no one by that name either worked in the AP office in Pittsburgh or was employed as an occasional writer or "stringer." Furthermore, he added that no earlier story could have been sent to the AP, for they certainly would not have asked him to write a second one on exactly the same news item. Significantly, the Associated Press did in fact use Stromholt's story, and it was carried throughout the country.

Shortly thereafter the publishers of Esquire decided to stop the press run on the September issue in order to include the article on infant mortality and nuclear testing as a special insert. Furthermore, in view of the serious implications for the decision on whether the U.S. should build the new antiballistic missile nuclear defense system, which would fill the atmosphere with hundreds of times as much fallout as all of the past nuclear tests if it were ever to be used, the publishers had decided to take out full-page advertisements in The New York Times and the Washington Post that would summarize the principal points of the article. They felt that these advertisements might appear in time to be considered in the Senate debate. Harold Hayes also sent advance copies of the article to every congressman and senator, together with a personal letter explaining the reason for this unprecedented action on the part of his magazine.

But for the ABM debate, it was too late. The final vote came only eight days later with a narrow victory for the Defense Department and the AEC, before the evidence of biological risks had a chance to be fully considered by Congress and the public.

On October 12, 1969, a few weeks after the Esquire article appeared, The New York Times published an account of a critique of my Troy data prepared by Dr. Peter Greenwald, director of the New York State Health Department's Bureau of Cancer Control, and Mrs. Sandra Kinch, director of the department's Office of Biostatistics. According to the Times, these two officials said that their analyses "tend to refute the validity and the conclusions" of my studies, which they described as having "definite factual errors" in the data used. To prove this, they submitted their own table of leukemia deaths among children under age 10 in the Albany-Troy-Schenectady area. The figures they gave were as follows:

          Birth Years             No. of Deaths
        ---------------         -----------------
            1940-42                      6
            1943-45                      8
            1946-48                      9
            1949-51                      7
            1952-54                     10
            1955-57                     13
                                Total:  53

But the figures supplied by Dr. J. H. Lade in his 1964 letter to Science, which I had used in my study, were (when regrouped in similar three-year periods):

          Birth Years             No. of Deaths
        ---------------         -----------------
            1943-45                      9
            1946-48                      8
            1949-51                      9
            1952-54                     15
            1955-57                     13
                                Total:  54

This was indeed peculiar. Five cases were missing from Greenwald's table in the critical 1952-54 period, yet the overall total number of cases was nearly the same in both tables. Examination of Greenwald's table showed that he had added a new category not present in Lade's: the 1940-42 period, for which he listed six cases. He had also deleted two cases from the 1949-51 period, with the final result that the total number of cases was nearly the same for both tables -- even though the exact five cases that indicated a large increase in leukemia during the critical years 1952-54 were missing.

Why had these five cases been removed? I re-examined the correspondence I had received from Greenwald. In it he stated that inaccuracies had been found in Lade's table among five of the eight cases born in the year 1953. But should these five cases have been eliminated from the 1952-54 entry? The answer could be found by examining Greenwald's critique, in which he described the nature of the inaccuracies in these cases. He stated that two of the children had actually been born in 1952 instead of 1953, while another had been born in 1954. But in his table in the Times, Greenwald had used the time period 1952-54, not 1953. Therefore these cases should have been included in his table by his own criteria. The fourth missing case was born in Montgomery County, New York, according to Greenwald, and not in the Albany-Troy area. But Montgomery County is right next to Albany-Troy, so this case could certainly have been caused by the fallout. And the same would hold true for the fifth and last child, who was born in New Mexico, according to Greenwald, and brought to Troy as an infant, and thus also would have been exposed to the fallout in the diet. I had hypothesized in my study that the fallout could have caused leukemia by genetic damage to the parents before conception or by direct damage either to children in the womb or to young infants. Therefore, there was no reason to exclude any of the five cases from the evidence. If they had been included, Greenwald's table would have shown fifteen cases for 1952-54, a doubling over the average rate for the previous years. Furthermore, the thirteen cases in the 1955-57 period were consistent with the hypothesis of genetically caused leukemia.

Other distortions of data were present in the critique by Dr. Greenwald and Mrs. Kinch. But how would the general public ever suspect? This was the voice of the New York State Health Department and not the AEC. Readers of the nation's press would simply assume that responsible and independent public health officials had proven that fallout was harmless after all.

During this period, amid the resultant publicity surrounding the article in the Observer, I was invited to appear on the NBC-TV "Today" show. According to Hugh Downs, one of the reporters on the program, the AEC had learned of the plans for my appearance and called the producer, urging him not to invite me. When the producer refused, the AEC urged that a scientist holding an opposing view should be present to give an immediate rebuttal. When this also was turned down, the AEC insisted on equal time as soon as possible after my appearance so that two independent scientists would be able to present the argument against my thesis. NBC finally agreed to provide equal time the following week.

On the program itself, Hugh Downs brought this out into the open: "I was just going to say that the Atomic Energy Commission called us yesterday. They were concerned about your appearance on the program today."

I asked the identity of the independent scientists whom the AEC wanted to present. Downs replied that one was a physician by the name of Dr. Leonard Sagan from the Palo Alto Medical Clinic, and the other was a Dr. John Storer from the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Both, of course, had worked until very recently for the Atomic Energy Commission's Division of Biology and Medicine. As to the reason why the AEC had urged NBC to cancel my appearance, Hugh Downs reported: "They say that their experiments with animals show that there is no damage to offspring at all from parent animals given strontium 90 in those low dosages that we get." This was in complete contradiction with the evidence submitted at Hanford by Moskalev and numerous other independent scientists. The explanation lay, as usual, in the manner in which the AEC studies were constructed.

This point was to be confirmed a few months later in a most unexpected manner by a chief scientist at one of the AEC's own laboratories. I had received an invitation to present a paper on my other research work regarding the reduction of diagnostic X-ray doses at a meeting in San Francisco in October 1969. I was also asked whether I would be willing to debate my fallout thesis on the Berkeley campus with Dr. Arthur Tamplin, who had written a critique of my work that was about to be published in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, and to which I had just written a reply. Tamplin was a biophysicist at the nearby Livermore Laboratory, operated for the AEC by the University of California. During the question period following our debate, someone in the audience brought up the argument that AEC studies had found no significant increase in mortality among the offspring of experimental animals fed strontium 90 for long periods of time. Immediately, someone else in the audience stood up and asked to comment on this question. It turned out to be Dr. John Gofman, Tamplin's supervisor, who was Director of the Biomedical Division of Livermore and an Associate Director of the laboratory. This was the man the AEC had placed in charge of all their radiobiological studies at Livermore back in 1963, when the hazard from internal fallout doses first aroused widespread public concern. For years Gofman had been studying the possible connection between radiation, chromosome defects, and cancer. He told the audience that he had investigated all the animal experiments carried out by the AEC, and in no case had they been designed to detect the kind of small reduction in birthweight and ability to fight infections that I had suggested as the likely cause for the increased infant mortality in man. He concluded that, to the best of his knowledge, there was not a single animal experiment that would contradict my hypothesis, and with that he sat down.

Within less than a year, both Gofman and Tamplin publicly denounced as complete falsehood the position of the AEC as expressed by Sagan and Storer on the "Today" program, namely, that "the levels of radiation to which the American public was exposed from fallout have been harmless." As told by the two scientists themselves in the pages of The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, their public denunciation of the AEC's position on low-level radiation effects was precipitated by the attempt of the AEC's top management to force Tamplin to suppress his own independent calculations, made in his original critique of my findings, that perhaps as many as 8000 infant deaths per year might have taken place as a result of genetic damage from nuclear testing. Dr. Spofford English, the Assistant General Manager in charge of the AEC's entire research program, together with the head of the Division of Biology and Medicine, Dr. John Totter, as well as Dr. Leonard Sagan and Dr. John B. Storer, had indicated to Gofman that Tamplin should publish his critique minus his own estimate of the possible fetal and infant deaths, thus effectively keeping this information from the public.

As Gofman and Tamplin put it: "They wanted us by omission to support their incredible position as stated on the `Today' show, and to put Tamplin's estimate into a less widely read scholarly journal, where it would evidently not be seen by the scientific community at large, the general public, and their elected representatives in Congress."

Subsequently, Dr. Gofman resigned his position as Associate Director of the Livermore Laboratories, and all but one of Tamplin's research group of twelve people were taken away from him six months later. Both scientists have continued to testify before various congressional committees that there is no safe threshold of radiation exposure and that presently permitted radiation exposure levels must be cut back to virtually zero. They have proposed that no release whatsoever of radioactive materials into the environment should be permitted without a full, nonpartial, interdisciplinary examination of each situation. And they have assembled a vast body of data indicating that if the radiation doses now allowed by AEC regulations (an average of 170 millirads per year for the entire population and not more than 500 for any single individual) were to be received by the entire U.S. population as a result of peacetime uses of nuclear energy, there would be at least 32,000 and perhaps as many as 64,000 additional deaths each year from cancer and leukemia alone. And these figures did not even include fetal and infant mortality or any more subtle long-range effects on health.

At the hearings on the environmental effects of electric power generation held by the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy in November 1969 and January 1970, Gofman and Tamplin presented their conclusion that a direct relationship exists between low-level radiation doses and the development of cancer, not only in the fetus and infant, but also in the mature adult. Furthermore, they urged an immediate tenfold reduction in the permissible radiation doses to the general population from all peaceful uses of nuclear energy.

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