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Markey Eyes Child Leukemia Risk Study
To Target Nuclear Power Plants

Risk Policy Report
Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Rep. Edward Markey (D-MA), a senior member of the House Energy & Commerce Committee, is showing early interest in investigating children’s leukemia risk due to exposure to radiation from nuclear reactors in response to a new study that found children living near the plants are more likely to die from leukemia.

While it is unclear whether Markey will hold a hearing on the topic, the congressman was quoted in a statement released last November by the advocacy group the Radiation & Public Health Project (RPHP) saying it is “critical that we continue to improve our understanding of the causes of child leukemia” and in particular to take note of the findings. “This study deserves critical consideration,” the lawmaker said in the Nov. 11 statement.

At the same time, the researchers -- which include the RPHP and the Western Michigan University Environmental Institute -- say they will press Congress for an investigation into the findings as a way to counter broad nuclear power expansion.

The study was published as a letter to the editor in the November issue of the European Journal of Cancer Care. It uses mortality statistics from the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention to update a 1991 National Cancer Institute analysis that found no excess mortality risk from cancer in counties with nuclear power plants.

In the update, the researchers found that although the national childhood leukemia death rate has plummeted due to therapeutic advances, the death rate for those living near nuclear plants has significantly increased.

“We observe a uniform pattern of increase in childhood leukemia [standard mortality ratio] from the earlier period to the most recent 20 years for the plants that remain in operation. The greatest changes occurred in the older plants,” the study says. The study is available on InsideEPA.com.

Specifically, the study, which uses data collected between 1985 and 2004, found a 13.9 percent increase in leukemia death rates of children living near nuclear plants that were built between 1957 and 1970 and a 9.4 percent increase in death rates of children living near nuclear plants built after 1970, compared to the national childhood leukemia death rate.

A researcher involved in the study says, “I and some of my colleagues who do research in this field plan to pressure Congress in the coming year to investigate the issue of cancer near reactors . . . . We would like this information on health risks used in the debate on nuclear revival.”

And although Markey has not indicated whether he will hold a hearing on the issue, he has been a long-time critic of expanding nuclear energy.

A nuclear energy industry source who had not seen the recent study says, “There have been a number of studies done in the U.S. about cancer rates near nuclear plants, and they’ve shown that it’s not what a lot of the anti-nuclear forces claim that it is.”

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