From Iris Atzmon:
Chernobyl killed 1,000 British babies
Thursday, 23rd March 2006, 08:59
Category: Healthy Living
LIFE STYLE EXTRA (UK) – More than 1,000 British babies may have died as a result of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster 20 years ago, an expert claims today (thur).
On the eve of the 20th anniversary of the tragedy, health records show infant deaths increased in the years after the Ukrainian reactor explosion in April 1986. And the biggest rise in deaths – babies under one year old – was in areas where radioactive rain had fallen, he said.
In contaminated areas, including Bradford and Leicester, infant deaths increased by 11 per cent during the years 1986 to 1989, and in other areas rose by 4 per cent. This was at a time when infant mortality had been falling by an average four per cent a year.
In the days that followed the nuclear disaster, in which an explosion tore the roof off one of the four reactors at the Soviet power station, large clouds of radiation swept westwards across northern Europe, including Scandinavia, France and the UK.
Epidemiologist and statistician John Urquhart, who carried out the research, said the Met Office tracked several plumes of the radiation moving across Britain, and radioactive particles fell as ‘black rain’ when the plumes met the patchy rain clouds overhead that day.
This meant showery parts of the country were contaminated much more than dry areas. In most places the contamination hung around for only a few weeks, but the highlands of Wales and Cumbria had very heavy rainfall that day and sheep farmers there are still living with the radioactive dust in the soil.
Mr Urquhart, a former advisor at a Cambridge University research unit, examined more than 50,000 infant deaths from all causes in the UK between 1983 and 1992 and compared mortality rates in different districts. He found that a map showing highest mortality almost exactly matched a Met Office map of contaminated areas.
In the most radioactive areas, which also included Merseyside, Bristol, Northern Ireland and parts of Essex, infant mortality was more than 11 per cent higher in the years 1986 to 1989 than in the preceding years.
Mr Urquhart said the result was “highly significant” and the chance that the increases were due to random fluctuations was about 1 in 4,000. He said: “The long term trend of infant mortality was declining at about 4 per cent per annum, but that was interrupted by Chernobyl.”As well as the national variations, there were very noticeable regional differences, he said.
For instance, Yorkshire received hardly any radioactive fallout, apart from in the very far west. And infant deaths in Bradford were higher than in the rest of the county.
He also found significant increases in ‘neo-natal deaths’ – babies up to 28 days old – which account for roughly half of all infant deaths. Neo-natal deaths rose by 4 per cent in contaminated areas but fell by 5 per cent in unaffected areas.
When he looked at just cot deaths, he found huge rises in some affected areas – 50 per cent in Bristol, 60 per cent in Liverpool and 90 per cent in Cumbria – although this is based on a relatively small number of deaths.
Mr Urquhart, presenting his findings at the Nuclear Free Local Authorities conference at City Hall in London, said there was clearly some “malign influence” causing these “excess” deaths but apart from the radiation there was no factor that applied only to the contaminated areas.
He said: “The question is, is that malign influence due to some disease affecting the population or is it due to Chernobyl? “But the malign influence was three times stronger in the radioactive areas.”
Earlier research has shown that an increase in northern England of thyroid cancer, associated with radioactive iodine, was probably due to Chernobyl fallout.
But Mr Urquhart said no scientist has looked for a link to infant deaths before because their ‘models’ predicted no effect from the level of radiation found in Britain after Chernobyl.
He said these models were based on a study of the aftermath of Hiroshima, with a much smaller population, and the effect is only noticeable when looking at many thousands of infant deaths.
He said: “There’s going to be a big controversy about this paper because people have been trundling along for the last 50 years saying radiation isn’t dangerous.
“These observations have got to pose a challenge to the scientific establishment.”
He called for more studies in other European countries and changes to the way governments plan for nuclear emergencies.
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