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Press Release

For Immediate Release:
12:30 p.m. EST, January 21, 2010

Joseph J. Mangano


Philadelphia, January 21, 2010 - Pennsylvania has the highest thyroid cancer rate of any U.S. state, and rates are especially high in the eastern part of the state, which has a large concentration of nuclear reactors, according to a new study released today.

From 2001-2005, the Pennsylvania thyroid cancer incidence rate was 44% above the U.S., according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  Of the 18 U.S. counties with the highest rates, six are located in eastern Pennsylvania.  There are 9 nuclear reactors in this area, the largest concentration in the U.S.

"Epidemic levels of thyroid cancer in eastern Pennsylvania suggest that radiation emitted by reactors may be driving up rates among local residents," says Joseph Mangano MPH MBA "because exposure to radiation is the only known cause of the disease."  Mangano is Executive Director of the Radiation and Public Health Project research group, and author of the article published in the current International Journal of Health Services.

The research found that in the mid-1980s, Pennsylvania's thyroid cancer rate was 40% below the U.S.  "Something occurred to change Pennsylvania's rate from low to high," says Mangano "and one of these possible factors is radiation from reactors."

"The findings shocked me," says Suzanne Litzenberger, a 30 year old thyroid cancer survivor from Allentown.  "The fact that Lehigh County has the highest rate of any county in the United States means we need to find what's causing the disease and take action to lower future rates."  The 2001-2005 thyroid cancer rate in Lehigh County is 21.4 cases per 100,000 persons, or 140% above the U.S. rate of 8.9.

"This research is further evidence that nuclear energy is a biological hazard that we cannot afford," states Judith Johnsrud PhD.  Dr. Johnsrud directs the Environmental Coalition on Nuclear Power in State College PA.

The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland around the throat that produces hormones essential to physical and mental growth.  Thyroid cancer has no known cause, other than exposure to radiation, especially radioactive iodine produced only in atomic bombs and nuclear reactors.  Iodine particles enter bodies from breathing and food, seek out the thyroid gland, and attack cells, leading to cancer and other disorders.

Thyroid cancer is the fastest-increasing cancer in the U.S.  It's rate has nearly tripled since 1980, and is rising sharply for all races, ages, and genders.  About 37,000 Americans will be diagnosed with the condition this year; over 70% are between age 20 and 60.  In Pennsylvania, the number of new cases has soared from 401 in 1985 to 2220 in 2007.

The nine nuclear reactors in eastern Pennsylvania are at Susquehanna in Luzerne County (2); Three Mile Island in Dauphin County (2); Peach Bottom in York County (3); and Limerick in Montgomery County (2).  Seven are still operating, while two have shut down (including the Three Mile Island 2 reactor that melted down in 1979). 

Reactors routinely emit low doses of radioactive iodine into local air and water.  For decades, health authorities contended low dose exposures to radiation did not harm humans.  But a 1999 study by the National Academy of Sciences found that up to 212,000 Americans developed thyroid cancer from radioactive iodine from above-ground atomic bomb tests in Nevada, which added low doses to the U.S. diet in the 1950s and 1960s.

New Jersey has the 5th highest thyroid cancer rate of all U.S. states.  The three counties with the highest rates in the state are all in central New Jersey (Camden, Burlington, and Ocean).  Ocean County is the site of the Oyster Creek nuclear reactor, which has operated for over 40 years, making it the oldest of the 104 U.S. reactors.  Oyster Creek recently received authorization from federal regulators to operate for 20 more years.

The Radiation and Public Health Project is a non-profit research and education group of scientists and health professionals specializing in cancer risk from radiation exposure.  The medical journal article on thyroid cancer is the 25th published by the group.  Mangano says more studies on thyroid cancer and other thyroid disorders are planned.

Speakers at the event held at Philadelphia's City Hall included Mangano, Johnsrud, Litzenberger, and:

  • Fred Winter MD, a Pottstown PA radiologist, and an expert in radiation health
  • Lewis Cuthbert PhD, President, Alliance for a Clean Environment in Pottstown PA
  • Matt Elliott, Associate with Environment New Jersey in Trenton NJ
  • Eileen Collis, thyroid cancer survivor from Montgomery County PA
  • Bonnie Polla, thyroid cancer survivor from Orefield PA

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