reprinted with permission from
No Immediate Danger, Prognosis for a Radioactive Earth, by Dr Rosalie Bertell
The Book Publishing Company -- Summertown, Tennessee 38483
ISBN 0-913990-25-2
pages 15-63.

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Can Health be Measured?

The obvious answer is that we can, of course, find a way to measure gains and losses in health; only the will to do so is lacking. In order to measure subtle changes in health a good reporting and recording system is needed, together with protection of privacy for the individual and ongoing biostatistical analysis of the accumulated data. Whole bodies of statistical theory, such as sequential analysis, used for product quality control, and system analysis, used to predict the outcome of a complicated interaction between interdependent variables, need to be used in the public health sector. This could provide a public health technology capable of managing military and industrial technology, able to act as a reality check on predictions and to give an early warning of dangers arising from within the big-system and threatening survival of the nation or, indeed, the human race. Biostatistical detection of problems needs to be followed by pathological, cytological and other confirmatory studies. No such serious systematic commitment to public health is evident relative to this nuclear issue anywhere in the world. Governments seem unaware that economic and military policies can be destructive of human health within the nation.
        The radiation issue is further confused by statisticians and public health specialists who claim that there are some inherent and insurmountable problems which make it impossible to monitor the public health effects of pollution.[38] These professionals seem to limit themselves, consciously or unconsciously, to current inadequate data collection systems and mathematical tools. This is like deciding that it is impossible to travel to the moon on the basis that the only transportation possible is a commercial airliner. It will very probably require grass-roots scientific initiatives to cause governments to begin to act as strongly in protection of public health as they act to promote their own economic and military strategies.
        Many people have become aware that national security strategies, especially nuclear weapon stockpiling, are increasing individual insecurity. Capital-intensive national economic strategies, designed to balance import/export dollar flow, can cause havoc with the individual citizen who is having to cope with the side effects of inflation and unemployment. Government neglect of health monitoring relative to economic and military strategies is, however, not yet perceived by the public as a serious problem.
        It should be obvious that pollution of the environment with fission products will cause a wide variety of physiological changes in people exposed to them. There is little disagreement among scientists with regard to this conclusion.
        There is also little controversy about the tragedy caused by uncontrolled fission -- whether deliberately or accidentally unleashed, whether from a nuclear reactor accident or an exploding warhead.
        The question which causes controversy is: which health effects should be recognised as important for fiscal planning? `Important' may relate to public acceptance of the problem, or to the money which must be paid out for damage compensation, or the productive years lost through premature disability or death of workers. Once the significant health effects are identified, then quantification of these effects becomes the primary societal goal. This gives rise to scientific controversies. Present scientific controversy on low level radiation has to do with estimating the number of radiation-induced `excess cancer deaths' that are related to a given dose of ionising radiation. Fiscal concern has centered on radiation-induced excess cancers, and scientific concern on predicting this outcome.
        These excess cancer numbers are important to planners who wish to show that their development schemes are less harmful than an alternative scheme. They are important to government officials who have to decide whether or not to assume the financial burden of ordering evacuation of a danger zone in a reactor accident like that at Three Mile Island. They are important to insurance companies, since they allow calculation of theoretical liability due to an accident. They are important to legislators who need to balance risks (deaths) against some military or economic benefit. They are important to strategic planners who calculate `collateral damage', i.e. the number of human deaths, after an atomic attack.
        These numbers of specifically selected health effects, `radiation-induced excess cancer fatalities', predicted on the basis of the `average man's' reaction to a given average dose of ionising radiation, are of little meaningful use to individuals. Firstly, no one is really an `average man'. Also, populations may vary in the proportion of people with above-average susceptibility to radiation damage. Secondly, a `radiation-induced excess cancer fatality' is one of the least likely of the health problems to occur with exposure to low level radiation. More likely scenarios are radiation acceleration of a cancer caused by some other factor, such as cigarette smoking[b], earlier clinical expression of cancer, benign tumours, or related non-malignant health problems. Thirdly, even if the individual has a cancer it is almost impossible to present evidence to prove that his or her cancer is the excess one which would not have occurred without the radiation exposure. Therefore compensation for damage is almost impossible to obtain. Only one veteran from the USA exposed to radiation in its nuclear bomb programme has ever received compensation: Orvile Kelly. About six months before he died the Veterans Administration admitted that his illness could be attributed to radiation exposure. About 1,000 veteran claims have been refused.[39]

  1. Many researchers believe that the primary carcinogen in cigarettes is polonium 210, a radioactive daughter product of radon gas which is released from uranium mining and i mill tailings.

        The usual `rational' approach to risk versus benefit planning by governments is irrational from the point of view of the individual. It undermines the individual's ability to control and understand his or her environment and to hold government accountable to its electorate.
        The human body is delicately fashioned and the unique gifts of each person are meant to enrich the human family. Crude quantification of random damage to people which is used to justify political or military gains of the nation may be labelled sophisticated barbarianism. It is the decadent thinking of those who have accepted the rule of force and who envision a future earth ruled by a powerful country (the USA or the USSR) with a monopoly of weapons of mass destruction, able to terrorise all other nations into co-operating with some form of global economy and resource-sharing of their choosing.

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