Dread of Radiation
Dioxin and ABC's Contaminated Journalism
Dread of Radiation
In April, the Raleigh N&O included a large article about challenges to "radiation myths." Since famed British epidemiologist Dr. Alice Stewart had given a public talk in Durham just before this article appeared, I thought the headline about radiation myths might be referring to her research, which has consistently debunked nuclear industry and nuclear government's claims that nuclear waste and ionizing radiation are "safe" or "acceptable risks."
Imagine my surprise when the article was about efforts by the nuclear industry to increase allowable radiation exposure and sharply reduce the amount of cleanup required for areas contaminated with nuclear waste. The "myths" the industry challenges include the consensus of world and US radiation standard-setters that it is wrong to assume there is any safe dose of ionizing radiation. As the N&O article noted, abandoning this standard would allow corporations and nuclear bomb-making plants to save big bucks by doing a lot less cleanup of the places contaminated by them. And they could expose workers to more radiation too.
Whoop de doo, except for the scientific studies by Dr. Stewart, her colleagues and many others which show ionizing radiation causes cancer and genetic damage even at extremely low levels. For examples, a single X-ray exposure to each fetus at the wrong time during pregnancy would roughly double the rate of cancer in children. This is why such X-rays are routinely avoided wherever possible.
Children on a playground that used to be part of a nuclear facility could be exposed each year to radioactive waste that they could breathe or swallow, as well as doses of radiation from the waste left behind by the nuclear industrial complex. Although children are less radiation-sensitive than fetuses in general, keeping these kids from getting cancer could be a very strong reason to really clean up nuclear waste. No wonder the industry calls her "the dreaded Dr. Stewart."
Genetic damage to people who are exposed to this radiation and survive to have children mostly won't show up for generations into the future because most mutations are recessive (i.e. undamaged genes cover for them, until a person inherits two defective genes), as Dr. Stewart noted in her talk.
What about helpful mutations? Stewart quoted famed geneticist J.B.S. Haldane: "If you have an old clock that won't run, hitting it once might help it. But I won't recommend the same for a chronometer." That is, simple systems like viruses are much more likely to benefit from a random mutation than are very complex organisms like humans, who are among the most radiation-sensitive of species.
By the way, Dr. Stewart has a paper to be published soon that debunks the highly-touted theory behind the "radiation myths" article. But will you see that in the N&O? [A splendid piece on Dr. Stewart did appear in the Chapel Hill News, May 18, 1997-Ed.].To top
The publisher of the African-American owned/pro-Jesse Helms/anti-abortion New Voice/New Generation newspaper is complaining because the Durham Arts Council won't let them stock their papers there due to a policy of only accepting papers with continuing arts coverage. Same thing happened to The Prism there years ago.
-Wells EddlemanTo top
Dioxin and ABC's Contaminated Journalism
When the facts don't fit the corporate agenda, you simply ignore those facts, or twist them into a mangled mess. ABC and John Stossel stretched journalistic dishonesty to new limits with the recent program Junk Science. He claimed that, regarding dioxin, "what hurts animals doesn't always hurt people." Even those knowing nothing about dioxin could see the story's imbalance, which included a heavily-edited interrogation of an EPA official; a lack of any voice describing the dioxin issue or opposing ABC's "no danger to the public" premise; and revealing smirks from Stossel as he boldly made his case that dioxin "hasn't ever been shown to cause a death."
Stossel reported that no one was harmed when a factory explosion released a cloud of dioxin in Seveso, Italy in 1976 and exposed nearby residents. And that American chemical plant workers who were exposed "to vast amounts of dioxin" were found by "a study" to be "about as healthy as the rest of us." And that the US government is wasting millions of dollars to "protect us from dioxin," as with the evacuation of Times Beach, Missouri due to dioxin contamination.
Stossel and the show's producers simply ignored the hundreds of studies showing that dioxin does harm those heavily exposed. There was also no mention of the rapidly mounting evidence linking this extremely potent family of compounds to numerous illnesses which are increasing in the general population, where most exposure occurs via the fall-out from waste incinerators into our food chain.
Research by Dr. Alberto Bertazzi and others since the Seveso accident have shown damage to locals including: increases inrare blood and liver cancers, a three-fold increase in rectal cancer, a six-fold increase in Hodgkin's disease and myeloma in women. Numerous studies of chemical workers in this country and others reveal large cancer increases, lowered testosterone levels and other maladies. And after a years-long cover-up, it is now acknowledged that Vietnam veterans exposed to Agent Orange are suffering from many illnesses ranging from cancers to diabetes.
Regarding Times Beach, Stossel follows the TV news trend of needing lots of bodies to make for a good story. He could have capitalized by reporting the dozens of horses, dogs and birds which fell dead after dioxin-laced oil was spread for dust suppression in Times Beach, the event which alerted residents to the contamination in the late '70's. Stossel trivialized the issue with a clip of a resident saying her son has had pneumonia and strep throat-instead of honestly portraying the problem or talking with the many residents with severe illnesses.
ABC ignored the five-year EPA study of these powerful endocrine-disrupting chemicals-a study which was ordered by industry but backfired when the federal agency confirmed independent research that dioxin is even more dangerous than previously believed, even in the tiniest amounts measurable (industry pressure has to date prevented EPA from acting on its findings). A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine (9/12/96) found that children exposed to low levels of PCBs (considered a "dioxin-like" compound) in the womb grow up with low IQs, poor reading comprehension, attention deficits and memory problems. The list goes on and on. Stossel simply pretended all this research had never been done. The dioxin issue is an enormous threat to the chemical industry which relies so heavily on chlorine-a major component of dioxin-and the cheap incineration of their wastes.
Stossel and ABC, who have come under heavy fire over their lack of journalistic integrity, used the eight-minute Junk Science segment on dioxin to roll back a huge amount of public education by researchers and grassroots organizations worldwide. But the setback is temporary because the science strongly supports the call for dioxin's elimination-an economically viable process which makes sense for public health and industry.
-Jim WarrenTo top
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