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The Evidence Begins to Emerge

IT WAS NOW an established fact that potentially dangerous radiation doses had been received by large numbers of people from fallout. What remained to be established was whether or not these doses had actually caused any damage. No direct statistical evidence had yet been gathered by either the AEC or federal and state health agencies, or, if it had been gathered, it had not been published.

This situation was abruptly transformed in March of 1964, when another letter by J. H. Lade of the New York State Health Department appeared in Science. This letter was written in response to repeated prodding by Ralph Lapp, who kept challenging the department to make public the actual figures after Lade had claimed in the September 1963 issue of Science that no increase in childhood leukemia had occurred as a result of the 1953 rainout. The exact words used by Lade in making this claim had been:

The cancer report files of this department reveal no increase in the incidence of cancer or leukemia over the past ten years in children of the Albany, Troy, and Schenectady areas -- who were 15 years or younger in 1963 -- as compared with children of this age elsewhere in upstate New York.

Lade's new letter contained the first detailed information on leukemia deaths among the children of the area. This was the data on which he had based the above conclusion.

The data consisted of a table that included all reported fatal leukemia cases among children under fifteen years of age in the Albany-Troy-Schenectady area between 1952 and 1962, together with the years in which these children were born. Examination of the table showed that, beginning in the fourth to fifth years after the 1953 rainout, the yearly number of reported leukemia cases quadrupled. This was strikingly similar to the delay in onset observed in the studies of Stewart and MacMahon and among the survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In the Troy area, after the eighth year, the number of cases began to decline once more, as they also did in the two Japanese cities. During the years 1952-55, before any radiation-caused leukemia cases would be expected to appear, there were a total of nine cases among children under age ten for whom the data was complete. During the years of expected peak incidence, 1959-62, there were a total of thirty cases. Statistical estimates demonstrated that the chances were less than one in a billion that this increase of twenty-one cases could be regarded as purely accidental.

And when the cases were examined according to the year of birth, there was a very noticeable sudden increase in leukemia among the children born in 1953 and 1954, the period when the fallout radiation would have been strongest. When grouped in two-year periods, the figures in Lade's table for children under ten showed the following:

         Birth Years              No. of Cases
         -----------              ------------
           1943-44                      4
           1945 46                      5
           1947-48                      8
           1949-50                      5
           1951-52                      6
           1953-54                     13
How, then, had it been possible for Lade to claim that there had been "no increase in the incidence of cancer or leukemia over the past ten years in the children of the Albany, Troy, and Schenectady areas"? Upon rereading his exact statement, it became apparent that he had used a modifying phrase whose significance would easily escape the casual reader. This phrase was: "as compared with children of this age elsewhere in upstate New York."

But the "classified" measurements made by the AEC's New York lab had shown that the entire upstate New York area received heavy fallout on April 26, 1953, and again during the next few months. Under these circumstances, there would of course be little or no difference in leukemia rates between Albany-Troy-Schenectady and elsewhere in upstate New York. Although he presented no data, Lade's statement clearly implied that in fact there had been similar increases in all these areas. (And indeed, later investigations revealed that there had been such rises all over New York State following three to five years after the onset of Nevada testing.)

In his 1964 letter, Lade presented a final argument to "rule out the fallout as a major factor in the leukemia incidence in that area for the 1953 births." According to his figures, there were also a large number of leukemia cases among the children born in 1956. Thus, Lade argued that the sharp rise in leukemia among those born in 1953 could not have resulted from the fallout, since there was also an increased incidence among the children born in 1956, when there presumably was no major fallout incident.

This piece of evidence seemed puzzling, especially since all the other data pointed so strongly to fallout. But then, a few months later, new light was thrown on the situation when the news of an extremely important study appeared in The New York Times. A group of investigators working with Dr. Saxon Graham at the Roswell Park Memorial Cancer Research Institute in Buffalo, New York, and at two other cancer research institutions, had found that the children of parents who had been X-rayed as many as five to fifteen years before the mothers became pregnant also had a significantly increased likelihood of developing leukemia. This finding suggested that radiation could cause a type of genetic damage to the sperm cells of men and the ovaries of women that would make their children more prone to developing this disease.

In the case of Troy, then, it was indeed possible that such a genetic effect of radiation could lead to a greater incidence of leukemia among the children born in the years following.

There was another very important finding of the Roswell study: Children who had received multiple exposures from a series of diagnostic X-rays to different parts of their bodies had a distinctly greater risk of leukemia than those who had only one part X-rayed. Fallout, due to the concentration of isotopes in various parts of the body, would lead to exactly this type of multiple exposure. Thus, in the Troy area, even children who were born before the rainout would be expected to show an increased risk of leukemia.

Independent studies had now demonstrated that radiation could cause leukemia in children prior to conception, in the womb, and after birth. What would the Troy data show if the cases were examined according to which of these three stages of development the children were in when the fallout arrived? When this was done, a fact of utmost significance emerged: Those children who had been in the womb or who were already born at the time of the fallout were, on the average, one or two years older at death than the children who had been conceived afterward. This was exactly the same characteristic shift toward older age at death that had been observed by both Stewart and MacMahon in their studies of children X-rayed while in the womb, and it had also been observed in studies of leukemia among infants who had received medical X-ray treatment. It was as if the children of Troy had been marked with a sign. The fact that the children conceived after the fallout showed the normal earlier age at death was perfectly consistent, for it is generally acknowledged that there is a large genetic factor in all normally developing leukemia cases and that a significant portion of these cases are caused by genetic damage from natural background radiation. Thus the children whose leukemia had been caused by radiation damage to their parents' genes would be expected to show the normal age at death.

None of the data supplied by Lade was therefore inconsistent with the hypothesis that the fallout had caused the increase in leukemia in the Albany-Troy-Schenectady area. And this might well be true for other types of childhood cancer. Further investigation was definitely indicated. Since I anticipated difficulty in obtaining more complete and up-to-date data from Lade, I again contacted Dr. Russell Morgan, chairman of the U.S. Public Health Service's National Advisory Committee on Radiation. After reviewing Lade's data and my conclusions, Dr. Morgan suggested that I use his name in writing to the New York State Commissioner of Health, Dr. Hollis Ingraham. In July I wrote Dr. Ingraham, asking for further information relating to cancer incidence in the Troy area and mentioning Dr. Morgan's concern about the data published by Lade. A few weeks later I received a letter from Lade indicating that he felt sufficient data was already available in his 1964 Science letter. It appeared that the New York State Health Department did not want to see the matter pursued any further.

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