Vermont Yankee Causes Harm
Joseph J. Mangano, MPH, MBA
Letters To The Editor
Monday, November 1, 2010
Health data suggest harm from plant
A recent report by the state health department concluded that the Vermont Yankee nuclear reactor has not harmed local residents ("Yankee gets clean bill of health," Sept. 23). But a closer look at official government data shows some unusually high death rate near the reactor.
Vermont Yankee is located in Vernon, in Windham County. There are no unusual health risks in Windham; poverty rates and education rates are similar to the state. Residents have access to medical care, locally and in Boston. And the county is not full of industrial pollutants -- with the potential exception of the state’s only nuclear reactor.
There are some troubling health patterns among Windham’s residents.
Since the 1970s, the county has the second highest mortality rate among Vermont’s 14 counties for infants dying before their first birthday. It also has the 2nd highest rate of deaths for children and young adults in the past three decades. While many factors can affect infant and child death rates, scientists agree that the youngest are most susceptible to the harmful effects of radiation exposure.
Another disturbing trend is that since 1999, Windham has the highest cancer death rate of any Vermont county. The county’s cancer death rate moved from 5 percent below the U.S. a generation ago to 10 percent above the U.S. currently.
This also should raise a red flag, since radiation is known to cause cancer in humans. Vermont Yankee generates a huge amount of radioactive particles and gases, found only in nuclear weapons and reactors. These include over 100 chemicals like Cesium-137, Iodine-131, and Strontium-90. Much of it is stored at the plant in deep, constantly-cooled pools of water. But every day, a portion is released from the reactor into the local air and water. They enter human bodies through breathing, water, and food.
Federal regulators must soon make a major decision. They will elect either to extend the Vermont Yankee license extension for 20 years, or allow the plant to shut down when the current license expires in just over a year.
This is a critical time to understand all potential health risks, and state health officials should make a thorough review.
JOSEPH J. MANGANO