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Citizens Watch Newsletter October 1998

Independent Scientists Come to Livermore for "Radiation and Your Health" Series

by Marylia Kelley
from Tri-Valley CAREs' October 1998 newsletter, Citizen's Watch

Health issues engage your curiosity? This month presents a unique opportunity to learn about the health hazards of radioactivity from nationally-recognized experts in the field.

Can public participation actually improve science? Come and hear real-life stories of health studies around nuclear facilities--and the important role the public plays.

Learn, question, dialogue, understand

These are a few of the goals of a series of discussions titled "Radiation and Your Health." These events are made possible by the Childhood Cancer Research Institute in Worchester, MA, along with Tri-Valley CAREs, Physicians for Social Responsibility and Western States Legal Foundation.

Among the presenters will be Dr. Steven Wing, Professor of Epidemiology at the University of North Carolina. (Epidemiology is the study of diseases in populations.) Dr. Wing is currently working on a study of workers at the Dept. of Energy's Hanford site, and on a project in concert with a grassroots group looking at health issues in eastern North Carolina. Additionally Dr. Wing has conducted health studies at the DOE's Oak Ridge, Savannah River and Los Alamos sites, as well as at Three Mile Island.

Dr. Seth Tuler, of the Childhood Cancer Research Institute and a researcher at Clark University, has extensive experience in health risk assessment and public participation in environmental policy-making. Tri-Valley CAREs' Marylia Kelley, who has monitored activities at Livermore Lab for more than 15 years, and Patrice Sutton MPH, with Western States Legal Foundation, round out the panel. Health studies in Livermore and questions regarding Livermore Lab's radioactive and toxic emissions will be highlighted. (See newsletter "Citizen's Alerts" section below for event details.)

"Rad" Controversy Deliberated

by Stephanie Ericson from Tri-Valley CAREs' October 1998 newsletter, Citizen's Watch

One researcher described his work X-raying Beagles. His conclusion: low-level radiation doesn't harm them. Another scientist said that increasing annual background radiation stimulates the body's autoimmune system to increase its ability to protect itself from such mutation damage and, therefore, from cancer.

On the other side, scientists presented epidemiological studies suggesting that low-level radiation causes even greater harm than had been previously acknowledged. These included a reevaluation of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki radiation survivor data and a study of a nuclear plant in Southern California which found that workers there suffered much higher than expected rates of cancer.

Neither of these views is new. Elements within the Health Physics Society, which is dominated by researchers close to the nuclear industry, have long maintained the idea of "hormesis." In this theory, a little radiation is good for you, like a vaccine, and actually protects you from cancer and other radiologic diseases.

The generally-accepted scientific view, however, is that there is no safe level of exposure, and that radiation effects are "linear."

Other scientists agree that there is no safe threshold below which radiation is harmless, but, additionally, are further theorizing that low levels of radiation exposure may present greater health dangers than the simple linear or proportional model indicates, and are, in fact, "supralinear." They point to new evidence that suggests the same amount of radiation spread out over time and emitted in low doses can cause more biological damage than in a single blast.

What was unusual, if not unprecedented, about this particular symposium was the presentation of these conflicting views before an audience of around 250 scientists, public health professionals and anti-nuclear activists.

Held at the Academy of Medicine in New York City, and organized by the Long Island-based STAR Foundation (Standing for Truth About Radiation), the two-day symposium was ambitious. Its 25 speakers included top scientists from a wide variety of disciplines, physicians, and leading peace, environmental and health activists.

In one of the most interesting presentations, Dr. Eric Wright described his work examining the biological effects of radiation on the molecular and cellular levels. He found that several generations after the initial radiation exposure, some progeny cells exhibited new chromosomal abnormalities or gene mutations, where none or different abnormalities or mutations existed in the parent (or grandparent) cells that were irradiated.

This "genomic instability" as it is called, is a recent area of scientific exploration, and one which is already providing important new insights into the biological effects of radiation. And, unlike epidemiological studies of human populations, research at the cellular and molecular levels can be conducted under the strictly controlled conditions of the laboratory. Wright also noted that a single track of radiation, if it hits the "right" cell, can cause cancer. More research is needed, he said.

Tony Mazzochi, of the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers Union, asserted that radiation standards are fairly meaningless because the worker dosimetry readings are so well sabotaged, including by workers themselves shielding their badges to keep their jobs. He said that with the privatization of uranium enrichment, and consequent use of contract workers, the problems will get worse.

A personal perspective was offered by William Reid, a physician whose practice includes the area around the Dept. of Energy's Oak Ridge facility. Dr. Reid noted that the anomalies he encountered in patients included earlier and more aggressive cancers, and that many were difficult to diagnose. He noted as well that he had encountered both cancer and non-cancer clusters of disease.

Three of us from Tri-Valley CAREs returned with a greater understanding of radiation effects on health. This will help our group better deal with issues associated with pollution from Livermore Lab.

We plan to include a short report from the New York symposium in our series "Radiation and Your Health," this month. We hope to see you there.

Citizen's Alerts

by Marylia Kelley
from Tri-Valley CAREs' October 1998 newsletter, Citizen's Watch

Thursday, October 15
Tri-Valley CAREs meets
7:30 PM, Livermore Library
1000 So. Livermore Ave.
(925) 443-7148

Join us for this most important meeting. Help us make the "Radiation and Your Health" events later this month SUCCESSFUL. Get the latest info on subcritical nuclear tests, the National Ignition Facility and other nuclear weapons projects. Gather with neighbors and friends to safeguard our communities from toxic and radioactive threats. Together we are making a difference. And, we need your help to continue.

Sunday, October 18
Honoring Paul Robeson
Actor-Activist-Renaissance Man
2 PM, West Auditorium
Oakland Library
Madison St., between 13th & 14th
(510) 524-6071 for details

Charles Wright, author of "The Peace Advocacy of Paul Robeson" will speak. Performances by the Vukani Mawethu Choir and rap artist J.B. Saunders will follow. Tri-Valley CAREs is co-sponsoring this event with East Bay Peace Action and others.

Thursday, October 22
Town Meeting
"Radiation and Your Health"
7 PM, City Council Chambers
3575 Pacific Ave., Livermore
(925) 443-7148 for details

Don't miss this! Bring your neighbors and families. Participate in a Town Meeting with a nationally renowned panel of scientists and community advocates. Learn about health effects of releases from nuclear facilities, including Livermore Lab. Explore issues of community risk, health studies and public participation in science and decision-making. Panelists include Dr. Steven Wing, Dr. Seth Tuler, Marylia Kelley and Pat Sutton (See insert and article on page 1 for details).

Friday, October 23
Brown Bag Lunch
"Radiation and Your Health"
NOON, Livermore Lab
Visitors Center Auditorium
Greenville Rd. entrance
(925) 443-7148 for details

Open to all Lab employees and the public, this lunch-time presentation will focus on Dept. of Energy health studies and worker issues. (See insert.)

Saturday, October 24
"Radiation and Your Health"
10 AM, Livermore Library
Rincon Branch
725 Rincon Ave., Livermore
(925) 443-7148 for details, RSVP

You are invited to an in-depth workshop, led by some of the country's top experts and geared to providing solid, basic information on health effects, health studies and risk assessment. This day-long event is a "must do" for activists, health care providers and others.

Wednesday, November 11
Tri-Valley CAREs' mailing party
7 PM, Stephanie's home
8301 Mulberry Pl., Dublin
(925) 829-6939 for directions

Many hands needed to prepare next month's newsletter for mailing.

"Atomic Audit" Author Dines With Local Activists

by Sally Light
from Tri-Valley CAREs' October 1998 newsletter, Citizen's Watch

About 25 people attended the dinner--discussion--book signing event with "Atomic Audit" author Stephen I. Schwartz on Sept. 28 at Sabina's restaurant.

After a delicious buffet of Indian cuisine was enjoyed by all, Steve spoke on his book's topic: the $5.5 trillion cost and myriad consequences of the US nuclear weapons program. Questions and answers and a book signing followed.
Steve is a knowledgeable, engaging speaker. He will be appearing at Goodenough Books in Livermore on Thurs., Oct. 29 at 7:30 PM.
Call the bookstore at (925) 443-4354 for details.

Meet Our Community Organizer

by Rene Steinhauer
from Tri-Valley CAREs' October 1998 newsletter, Citizen's Watch

To introduce myself, I am Rene' Steinhauer, and I come to Tri-Valley CAREs much in admiration of the good work performed by this group over the past years. A life-long activist, I have been on the periphery of the organization for several years, but became actively involved only recently-principally because of the good work done by the group's dedicated volunteers.

It was my predecessor as Community Organizer, Anna Graves, who started "pulling my chain" to volunteer for some tablings (including at Livermore High School as part of the outreach program to younger prospects), mailing parties and our entry in the annual Livermore Rodeo Parade. Even though I consider myself generally knowledgeable, I became even better informed about many issues, especially "hot" local ones, such as "the plutonium matter." Anna did a great job of dragging me in, and I much appreciate it.

Shortly thereafter, the world turned a little more dangerous...

There were the nuclear bomb tests in India and Pakistan. Iran tested a longer range missile, and later, so did North Korea. We have the ongoing problem of chemical and biological weapons in Iraq, and now, most recently, of possible nuclear weapons there as well. To make matters worse, the U.S. was busy circumventing the terms of the test ban treaty with "Stockpile Stewardship," and Jesse Helms was hard at work rescinding the Anti Ballistic Missile treaty- though he failed in the U.S. Senate by one vote!

It had been my impression the "Doomsday Clock" had been cranked back from Nuclear Midnight by a few minutes at the end of the Cold War. Now the damned clock had jumped forward again! Of course, I could no longer sit on the sidelines and let the good folks at Tri-Valley CAREs go it alone. When Anna left, I stepped forward.

As a 35 year career private investigator and community activist, I have varied skills I can offer that may be of help to the group, and more recently I have started to focus on the health issues associated with nuclear weapons and facilities, having attended the recent conference on the subject at the Academy of Medicine in New York City (see also article on page 1). Now, of course, I am involved in the special events planned for October 22, 23, and 24 (see insert).

I look forward to meeting every one of the membership, and, as your new Community Organizer, to calling upon your assistance for our outreach programs. It is a humbling feeling to be associated with so many dedicated people and to be part of so respected an organization as Tri-Valley CAREs.

U.S. Subcritical Nuclear Test Decried

by Marylia Kelley
from Tri-Valley CAREs' October 1998 newsletter, Citizen's Watch

Twice delayed by technical difficulties, vigorously protested by activists around the world and over-budget by tens of millions of dollars, the U.S. "subcritical" nuclear test, code-named "Bagpipe," was detonated deep underground at the Nevada Test Site on Saturday, Sept. 26.

The test involved 4 assemblies with 7.2 ounces of plutonium set off by high explosives, but stopping short of a sustained nuclear chain reaction. It was the fourth such test conducted by the U.S. since signing the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), and the second designed by weaponeers at Livermore Lab.

The CTBT bans "any nuclear weapon test explosion or any other nuclear explosion." While DOE asserts that subcritical tests do not violate the letter of the CTBT, at a minimum, they contravene its spirit and intent.

Takashi Hiraoka, Mayor of Hiroshima, Japan, said the test "will inevitably cause a build up in the nuclear weapons race." Nagasaki Mayor Itcho Ito said the U.S. trampled on the wishes of the people of the world by conducting the underground experiment despite opposition. "At a time when hopes are rising for... nuclear disarmament, it is necessary to criticize the United States at the international level," Ito added.
Prior to the test, 96 organizations, representing millions of citizens around the globe, sent letters to Presidents Clinton and Yeltsin requesting the cancellation of all subcritical nuclear tests. Russia, in the wake of repeated U.S. subcriticals, recently announced it will conduct its own such experiment at the Novaya Zemlya test site later this year.

Tri-Valley CAREs members and friends vigiled at Livermore the eve of the test and then demonstrated at the Bechtel Headquarters in San Francisco. Bechtel manages the Nevada Test Site for DOE. In Nevada, activists gathered at the test site Friday and vigiled until Saturday.

Please send the protest letter to Energy Secretary Bill Richardson that we have posted for your use on this web site.

Illnesses Found Around Livermore Lab, Other Weapons Sites

by Marylia Kelley
from Tri-Valley CAREs' October 1998 newsletter, Citizen's Watch

Around the nation's bomb plants, workers and neighbors haven fallen victim to a multitude of mysterious and debilitating illnesses, according to an investigation by a Nashville, Tenn. newspaper.

Four hundred and ten people from around 13 U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) nuclear weapons facilities, including the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL), were interviewed by the Tennessean for this special report. The sick live near sites where toxic and radioactive materials were allowed to waft in the air, leak into the ground and wash into streams, often over many years. People told of ailments including immune system deficiencies, tremors, memory loss, fatigue and an array of breathing, muscular and reproductive problems as well as cancers and other diseases.

No direct link was drawn between the diseases and the facilities by either the newspaper or many of the people interviewed. However, most believe the federal government owes it to the people it has exposed to undertake a comprehensive study of their illnesses. To date no one has taken such a look, not the DOE that owns the sites, nor the health agencies responsible for community well-being, nor the politicians who vote on the weapons budget. Further, residents at some DOE sites, most notably at Hanford, are insisting on the right to medical monitoring services.

The DOE acknowledges it has contaminated all the sites in question, but insists there is no harm to the residents. According to Peter Brush, acting assistant secretary for environment, safety and health at DOE, there are no plans afoot for broader studies.

In Livermore, journalists interviewed 13 members of seven families, with ages ranging from 3 to 66. Families spoke of suffering from arthritis, severe allergies, headaches, developmental disabilities, compromised immune systems, infections, cancers and heart attack.

"I don't know what's wrong, the doctors don't know what's wrong, all I know is that my whole body hurts so bad," local resident Terry Wheeler told the Tennessean. She was healthy when she moved to Livermore 20 years ago, she said. "And when you see so many of your friends getting some of the same health problems that don't make sense at all, you start looking around and thinking it could have something to do with all the things they've done at the lab through the years."

Local resident and LLNL employee Frank Chambers told the paper he knows of many workers' families whose children have disabilities similar to those of his son. While cautious about drawing too straight a line, Chambers believes Livermore Lab "needs to be more forthcoming," though he doubts it will do so.

Georgia Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney has responded to the Tennessean's findings with a vow to circulate a letter to her colleagues calling on the President and the Surgeon General to launch an investigation of illness around weapons facilities.


1. Phone or email your Congressional Rep. and ask him or her to join Cynthia McKinney's call for an investigation. Switchboard: (202) 224-3121. By email:

2. Participate in one of the series of educational events this month, titled "Radiation and Your Health," sponsored by Tri-Valley CAREs and others (see newsletter "Citizen's Alerts" section for dates, times and places).

3. Join with us to stop ongoing health threats from current nuclear weapons projects and to achieve the best possible cleanup of toxic and radioactive pollutants around Livermore and other DOE sites.

4. Support medical monitoring and other environmental justice efforts for all residents around the nation's nuke weapons complex.

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