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U.S.A. Newborn Deterioration in the Nuclear Age, 1945-1996
By J.M. Gould, E.J. Sternglass, J.J. Mangano
The Radiation and Public Health Project

A study of rates of infant mortality and low birthweights since 1945 for each of the states in the United States of America (USA) indicates a marked deterioration in newborn viability occurred after 1945, with the release into a relatively pristine atmosphere of huge amounts of fission products from reactors and bomb tests. Infant mortality rates (IMR) in the largely pre-nuclear period 1935-50 registered an annual decline of about 4 percent, which was significantly reduced after 1945. Moreover, the percentage of underweight live births rose significantly after 1945 in every state. For example, if for the USA as a whole the pre- nuclear annual decline were assumed to persist after 1945, the 1995 expected USA IMR would have been under 5 deaths per 1000 live births instead of the observed rate of 8.7. For the 50 year period 1945-1995, the cumulated total number of live births was 191.7 million, with 3.8 million infant deaths. In contrast, the corresponding number of cumulated expected infant deaths would have been 2.8 million, with a cumulated excess of about 1 million infant deaths over the 50 year postwar period, attributable to exposure to all post-1945 releases of chemical and radioactive pollutants. The corresponding increase in underweight live births after 1945 is a magnitude higher than the number of excess infant deaths, and can also be correlated in each state with exposure to releases first from bomb tests and later from reactors. For the years 1950-1995, when birthweights were recorded for each state, about 13 million of the cumulated 174 million live births-or about 7.44 percent-weighed less than 2,500 grams. The low birthweight babies were vulnerable to many future physical problems, despite great medical advances in keeping low birthweight infants alive. The contribution of low-level radiation from both reactor emissions and bomb tests can be most clearly seen in the case of Washington state, in which the Hanford facility began the USA nuclear age with radioactive releases in 1945 of the magnitude of the Chernobyl accident. By 1992, however, with the closing of the neighboring Trojan reactor near Portand, Oregon, and the complete cessation of Hanford reactor releases, Washington became the first state to achieve a 1996 IMR of about 5 deaths per 1000 live births. This rate is precisely the expected level projected from its pre-nuclear rate of decline in infant mortality rates, with only about 5 percent of its live births now weighing less than 5.5 lbs. Each state can be shown to exhibit postwar newborn deterioration in varying degree, in accordance with the differential exposure to bomb-test and reactor emissions.