Baby teeth collected six decades ago will reveal the damage done to Americans’ health by US nuclear weapons tests

by Lawrence Wittner And Joseph Mangano

In 2020, Harvard University’s TC Chan School of Public Health started Five-year study, funded by the National Institutes of Health, which will study the relationship between early life exposure to toxic metals and the risk of neurological disease later in life. A Harvard collaborator, the Radiation and Public Health Project, will analyze the relationship between strontium-90 (a radioactive element in nuclear weapon detonations) and the risk of disease later in life.

The focus of the study is a collection of nearly 100,000 baby teeth, collected in the late 1950s and early 1960s by the St. Louis Committee on Nuclear Information.

These teeth were collected over a period of time intense public excitement About the escalating nuclear arms race between the US and Soviet governments in which the new hydrogen bomb (H-bomb), a weapon more than a thousand times With the power of the bomb that wiped out Hiroshima. To prepare themselves for nuclear war, the two Cold War rivals conducted well-publicized and sometimes televised atmospheric nuclear weapons tests – 434 of them between 1945 and 1963. These tests sent vast clouds of radioactive debris high where the winds often carried them great distances before falling to the ground and sucked up by soil, plants, animals and humans.

The The dangers of nuclear testing It was confirmed by the detonation of a hydraulic bomb by the US government on March 1, 1954 in the Bikini Atoll, located in the Marshall Islands. Although an area the size of New England was designated a danger zone around the test site, a large dose of nuclear dust slid onto four inhabited Marshall Islands and onto a Japanese fishing boat, lucky dragon All are significantly outside the danger zone – with disastrous results.

Soon, criticism of the nuclear arms race, especially nuclear testing, mounted. Notable individuals, including Bertrand Russell, Albert Einstein, Albert Schweitzer, and Benjamin Spock, issued impassioned warnings. New grassroots membership organizations arose, among them the National Committee for a Sensible Nuclear Policy (SANE) in the United States, the National Council to Abolish Nuclear Weapons Tests (which turned into the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament) in Britain, and Japan. Council against atomic and hydrogen bombs.

Annoyed the audience, particularly by the fact that strontium-90 from nuclear tests has moved from grass to livestock and milk and finally into human bodies – with particular concern as it builds up in children’s bones and teeth. By the late 1950s, polls found that most Americans viewed the fallout as a “real danger.”

Linus Pauling, the Nobel Prize-winning chemist, has emerged as one of America’s most enthusiastic and effective critics, publishing anti-test petitions signed by thousands of American scientists and even greater numbers of scientists abroad. Pauling charged that nuclear bomb tests up to 1958 would eventually produce about one million severely defective children and nearly two million fetal and newborn deaths.

Determined to maintain the nuclear weapons program The US government is terrified Of the popular uproar eager to suppress it. US intelligence agencies and congressional investigations against groups like SANE and anti-nuclear leaders like Pauling have been unleashed, while US information agencies and government officials have publicly downplayed the dangers of nuclear testing. in a life magazine article, Edward Teller, often called the “father of the hydrogen bomb”, insisted that the radiation from nuclear testing “does not necessarily need to be harmful”, but “is conceivably beneficial”.

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However, public concern grew. In August 1958, Hermann KalkarA biologist at the National Institutes of Health published an article in the journal temper natureand inviting public health agencies in multiple countries to participate in the large-scale collection of children’s teeth. Kalkar suggested dental testing for strontium-90 fallout from bombs, as children are most susceptible to the toxic effects of radioactivity.

University of Washington scientists I realized that studying dentistry could change public policy. In December 1958, they joined with the leaders of the Nuclear Information Committee, a citizen group that opposes nuclear war and above-ground bomb tests, and they adopted a proposal to collect and test teeth for strontium-90 concentrations.

Over the next 12 years, the committee worked hard, asking for dental donations through community institutions such as schools, churches, scouting groups, libraries, and dental offices. A total of 320,000 teeth were collected, and the University of Washington laboratory measured strontium-90.

The results clearly showed a Huge increase in strontium 90 As the test continues. Children born in 1963 (the height of the bomb tests) averaged 50 times more than those born in 1951 (when widespread testing began). Medical journal articles detailed findings. Information about the dental study was sent to Jerome Wisner, scientific advisor to President John F. Kennedy.

Apparently Kennedy, who is already pursuing the Test Ban Treaty, has been swayed by the uproar over the children’s fate. in a July 1963 speech Announcing the successful conclusion of the test ban negotiations by the governments of the United States, the Soviet Union, and the United Kingdom, he said that governments could not be indifferent to the catastrophe of nuclear war or to “children and grandchildren with cancer in their bones, with leukemia in their blood, or poison in their lungs”. The result was Partial Test Ban TreatyThat banned nuclear testing in the atmosphere, in outer space and under water.

According to an ongoing dental study, the average strontium is 90 in baby teeth reduced by half In just four years after the test was banned. With their goal apparently achieved, the Nuclear Information Commission and the university halted dental collection and testing. Shortly thereafter, the commission dissolved.

Three decades later, University of Washington employees discover thousands of abandoned baby teeth that have not been tested. The school donated the teeth to the Radiation and Public Health Project, which was conducting a study of strontium-90 in the teeth of US children near nuclear reactors.

Now, using strontium-90 that is still present in the teeth, the Radiation and Public Health Project will conduct an analysis of health risks, which were not addressed in the original dental study, and were not addressed by government agencies. Based on the actual exposure to radiation in the bodies, the question of how many Americans have suffered from cancer and other diseases from the fallout from nuclear tests will be clarified.

Dr. Lawrence Wittner ( Professor Emeritus of History at State University of New York/Albany and author face the bomb (Stanford University Press). Joseph Mangano MBA is the CEO of Radiation and Public Health Project


picture: Pixabay

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