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Cancer study should be revived

The anguished statement by a former employee of the Erwin-based Nuclear Fuels Services company, then a county commissioner, that “I can name a hundred people who have died with cancer” referenced also his own and his 6-year-old granddaughter’s cancer diagnosis.
It was made during a public meeting by the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Control in Erwin in 2009.
Citizens of the community had petitioned ATSDR for an assessment of reasons for their high rate of cancer deaths. The agency’s assessment, however, had excluded risk factors from exposure to radioactive materials in the environment at or surrounding the NSF facility.
Methodological reasons precluded this, ATSDR stated, since the Department of Health registry in Tennessee often omitted patients’ county of residence when being treated for cancer at medical institutions. So did legal reasons since any radioactive releases related to the facility’s nuclear-materials processing – for the U.S. Navy and the TVA – are under the regulatory authority of a different agency, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
Being itself unable to investigate radiation-related cancer incidence and risk, ATSDR promised to look for “other avenues by which the petitioners’ concerns for the nuclear and radiological issues can be addressed.”
It did so, adding its weight to the continued call by the citizens that a thorough public health examination be done of possible radiation-related causes and consequences of cancer rate in the community.
The NRC agreed to fund a relevant study and hired the National Academy of Sciences to design and conduct it. NFS was one of seven sites selected, the others being large nuclear power plants. In spring 2011, the citizens were able to relate their concerns directly to a panel of medical professionals of the academy.
The citizens’ fear is justified given leakage or permitted emission of low levels of carcinogenic and other harmful substances routinely during nuclear-plant operations. In France and Germany, national studies of child cancer found this to be elevated proportionately with distance from nuclear plants, and heightened cancer risk through occupational or other radiation exposure has been documented in a range of studies in the U.S.
The researchers from the National Academy concluded a first phase of the agreed-upon review in 2012. They found enough facts and reasons to recommend a second phase, which would include a pilot study of cancer mortality for all age groups around the seven, selected plants, including NSF.
Early last month, however, the NRC announced cancellation of the study, stating the outlays of $1.5 million during the first phase, and anticipated $8 million for the second phase, to be “prohibitively high.”
It also re-asserted its customary claim that radioactive releases during facilities’ usual operations are “too small” to cause observable cancer risk increases.
This assertion begs to be backed up by solid and current medical evidence collected, analyzed and made transparently public, as the National Academy study had initiated.
To lay well-founded health concerns by citizens to rest, the NRC should deem worthwhile such a small allotment from its large, billion-dollar annual budget.