1045 Clayton Street
San Francisco, California 94117
April 25, 1997
Ms. Mary Bitterman, President KQED
2601 Mariposa Street
San Francisco, California 94110
Dear Ms. Bitterman:
My wife and I, both professionals, are long-term devoted supporters of KQED. Moreover, we have been pleased at the great improvement in programming that has occurred since you assumed the Presidency of KQED.
It is, therefore, with great sadness that I must write this letter of HUGE protest against a most egregious violation of sound broadcasting committed in the past few weeks by KQED. Unless this is corrected by you, I think a campaign will be necessary to alter the horrible error made by KQED.
I do not when whether you specifically were involved, but on matters such as this, you must realize that "the buck stops with you, as president."
For about a week prior to the broadcast of the FRONTLINE program on nuclear power, KQED incessantly ran an ad showing that a piece of paper would stop the alpha particle radiation from a piece of plutonium. The context was, of course, suggesting that plutonium is not all that dangerous as a toxic material --- "even a piece of paper stops all the radiation."
This is an absolute violation of your privilege to use the airwaves. It is not appropriate for you to air materiel which can have major harmful consequences for life for your listeners. In this case, the horrendous blunder on plutonium can in time add to the death toll which will result from population exposure to plutonium.
POINT 1: Is it true that the piece of paper can stop the alpha particle radiation from plutonium ?
YES, IT IS TRUE,
POINT 2: Does this suggest that plutonium is not seriously toxic as a carcinogen?
ABSOLUTELY NOT. This piece of gimmickry has been kicking around for decades. All of us who are knowledgeable on this matter recognize it as a piece of circus hucksterism designed to deceive people. BUT OBVIOUSLY KQED, either you or your staff, did not know about this piece of chicanery. And as a result you permitted a gross deception to be perpetrated on thousands upon thousands of viewers, who now think their favorite TV station has "proved" that plutonium is harmless.
Try a little thinking. Yes, a sheet of paper does stop alpha particle radiation from penetrating. Now suppose that plutonium were next to the lining cells of your bronchi, or other parts of the respiratory apparatus -- or the lining of your stomach or intestine, or the duct cells of the breast. Those cells would now experience horrendous damage from the plutonium alpha particle radiation -- which can only penetrate a few cell diameters at most. And this can kill those lining cells or set them off on the path to cancer.
The reason the paper stops the alpha radiation is the enormous transfer of radiation energy to the paper. We are not concerned about giving cancer to a sheet of paper. But no viewer of KQED should appreciate your going along with a hoax on plutonium toxicity, perpetrated originally by FRONTLINE in preparing the hoax-laden program, and your featuring the hoax in the week leading up to the program itself.
If FRONTLINE wishes to conduct this hoax known for decades, an irate public should let FRONTLINE know about the insult and damage being done to veracity and to potential health.
BUT FOR KQED to help advertize the hoax by a week of pre-program focus on the most insincere part of the entire FRONTLINE program is such an egregious blunder that it leaves me speechless.
There is only one way to try to re-establish some credibility for KQED. AND YOU, MS. BITTERMAN, need forthrightly to admit your blunder in at least as many spots on KQED as the ad you ran day after day on this issue.
As a friend of KQED for decades, I assume you were totally oblivious to the scandalous action being perpetuated by the program department in running that ad. You must tell the viewers about the error, and you must apologize.
If such apology is not forthcoming, the only conclusion to be drawn is that KQED does not care whether some number of future Americans die of a cancer-incurred because the propaganda campaign of falsehood concerning appropriate information on toxicity has succeeded. Is this your desire?
I cannot believe you will not take appropriate action -- publicly.
As for FRONTLINE itself, that one piece of hoax-filled non-information destroys all credibility of the producers and disseminators of that program.
John W. Gofman, MD., Ph.D.
Professor Emeritus, Molecular and Cell Biology
Lecturer Emeritus, UCSF, Department of Medicine.
I concur with the above.
Helen F. Gofman, M.D.
Associate Professor, Emeritus
Dept. of Pediatrics, UCSF Medical School
back to CNR | radiation | rat haus | Index | Search | tree