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THE FATE OF OYSTER CREEK; A CHANCE TO REDUCE CANCER
Joseph J. Mangano and Edith Gbur

Asbury Park Press
July 18, 2007

The clock is ticking until the license of the Oyster Creek nuclear reactor, the oldest in the U.S., expires. Federal regulators face a decision on whether to accept or reject an application to extend the license for 20 years. Legal actions to block approval have been taken by the state of New Jersey and a coalition of citizens groups.

A large-scale release of radioactivity after mechanical failure or terrorist attack would constitute the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history – especially if it occurred at Oyster Creek, just 60 miles from both New York City and Philadelphia. But is Oyster Creek just a potential health threat, or has it actually harmed humans in the 38 years it has operated?

Companies that operate nuclear reactors, along with federal officials, claim that while routine releases of radioactivity into the air and water are too small to cause any harm. But a growing body of evidence suggests that toxic releases from Oyster Creek are linked with high cancer rates in the local area. This information should be a critical aspect of whether the reactor license is extended, or whether Oyster Creek is closed permanently.

The only national study of cancer near U.S. nuclear plants, by the National Cancer Institute, showed that the local cancer death rate rose for most types of cancer during the 1970s and early 1980s, after Oyster Creek began operating. Although the report called for further investigation, neither the NCI nor any other federal agency ever updated this report, now nearly two decades old.

An examination of current health statistics raises troubling questions.

  • Ocean County has the highest cancer incidence rate of any New Jersey county, followed by Monmouth County (located directly downwind, to the north).
  • Ocean and Monmouth County death rates are below the U.S. for all causes but cancer.
  • Local breast cancer death rates are elevated for young, middle aged, and elderly women.
  • Local childhood cancer rates are elevated (partially due to the cluster in Toms River).

There is no obvious explanation for these high cancer rates. The area’s population has above-average levels of income and education, and below-average levels of poverty and non-English speakers. It also has access to world-class medical care in New York City and Philadelphia. While many factors can contribute to cancer rates, Oyster Creek must be considered as one.

Routine releases from reactors are actually a cocktail of over 100 chemicals, similar to those in atomic bomb test fallout from a half century ago. These chemicals enter the body through breathing and the food chain, and each kills and injures healthy cells in various parts of the body. Iodine-131 seeks out the thyroid gland. Strontium-90 attaches to bone and penetrates into the bone marrow. Cesium-137 disperses throughout the soft tissues. These chemicals are especially harmful to the fetus, infant, and child.

Oyster Creek’s emission levels during its lifetime are the highest of any U.S. reactor, with a total five times greater than at Three Mile Island during the 1979 accident. Even today, Oyster Creek’s emission totals consistently ranks in the highest 10 of the 104 U.S. reactors.

Research recently published in five medical journal articles suggests strongly that these emissions are entering local bodies. The research was based on lab testing of over 500 New Jersey baby teeth, most near Oyster Creek, and found that average levels of Strontium-90 doubled from the late 1980s to the late 1990s.

Other research has shown that when nuclear reactors close, local infant mortality and childhood cancer rates plunge immediately after shutdown. These studies offer further evidence that Oyster Creek poses an actual health threat to local citizens.

Oyster Creek emissions are probably not the only reason for high local cancer rates. But with the population of Ocean and Monmouth Counties now exceeding 1.2 million, and with 8000 of them being diagnosed with cancer each year, the situation has reached crisis proportions. The possibility of Oyster Creek operating for another 20 years brings this crisis to a head, and demands that precautionary policies be followed.

There are some, including Dr. Letty Lutzker (“Scientific evidence doesn’t support ‘Tooth Fairy Project’ claims”, July 10), who call the facts presented above a “medicine show.” But this is anything but a show, and those who declare Oyster Creek “safe” have no evidence proving their claim. Too many are suffering from cancer, experts have no explanation, and a dangerous technology continues to add toxins to our bodies. We challenge Dr. Lutzker and others who dismiss these facts to publicly debate the matter, so that the people can better understand this crucial issue.

Joseph J. Mangano MPH MBA is Executive Director of the Radiation and Public Health Project in New York. Edith Gbur is Director of the Jersey Shore Nuclear Watch in Toms River NJ.


APPENDICES – DATA USED IN EDITORIAL
(not published with the editorial, but included as a reference).

Appendix 1
Gaseous Airborne Releases, Total Fission Products
US Reactors with Largest Releases, Total 2001-2004

Reactor, State
Curies of Fission Products
1. Monticello (MN)
4140.0
2. Browns Ferry (AL)
3885.3
3. Quad Cities 1 (IL)
1729.0
4. Watts Bar (TN)
1253.8
5. Sequoyah 1 (TN)
1216.6
6. Cooper Station (NE)
1187.3
7. Callaway (MO)
1121.0
8. Brunswick 1 (NC)
1084.9
9. Firzpatrick (NY)
1037.6
10. Oyster Creek (NJ)
947.1
Source: U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, www.reirs.com.
Fission products include Argon-41 (half-life of 1.8 hours), Krypton-83 (<1 second), Krypton-85 (10.8 years), Krypton-85m (4.4 hours), Krypton-87 (78 minutes), Krypton-88 (2.77 minutes), Krypton-89 (3.2 minutes), Xenon-131m (12.0 days), Xenon-133 (5.3 days), Xenon-133m (2.3 days), Xenon-135 (9.2 hours), Xenon-135m (15.6 minutes), Xenon-137 (3.9 minutes), and Xenon-138 (17.0 minutes). All are Boiling Water Reactors except for Watts Bar, Sequoyah, and Callaway.

 

Appendix 2
Gaseous Airborne Releases,
Radioactive Iodine Isotopes
US Reactors with Largest Releases, Total 2001-2004
Reactor, State
Curies of Iodine
1. LaSalle 1 (IL)
9.73
2. Palo Verde 3 (AZ)
5.21
3. Fermi 2 (MI)
2.01
4. Brunswick 1 (NC)
1.13
5. Oyster Creek (NJ)
0.87
6. Quad Cities 1 (IL)
0.51
7. Hope Creek (NJ)
0.41
8. Monticello (MN)
0.14
9. Dresden 2 (IL)
0.10
10. San Onofre 2 (CA)
0.10
Source: U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, www.reirs.com.
Iodine isotopes include Iodine-130 (half-life of 12.5 hours), Iodine-131 (8.02 days), Iodine-132 (2.3 hours), Iodine-133 (20.9 hours), Iodine-134 (53 minutes), and Iodine-135 (6.7 hours). All are Boiling Water Reactors except for Palo Verde 3, Hope Creek, and San Onofre 2.

 

Appendix 3
Gaseous Airborne Releases, Strontium-90
US Reactors with Largest Releases, Total 2001-2004
Reactor, State
Microcuries of Sr-90
1. Fitzpatrick 1 (NY)
673.4
2. Oyster Creek (NJ)
303.9
3. Nine Mile Point 1 (NY)
67.1
4. LaSalle 1 (IL)
49.3
5. Quad Cities 1 (IL)
43.6
6. Salem 1 (NJ)
42.7
7. Nine Mile Point 2 (NY)
32.9
8. Susquehanna 1 (PA)
29.5
9. Clinton (IL)
24.1
10. Washington Nuclear (WA)
13.5
Source: U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, www.reirs.com.
A microcurie equals one-millionth of a curie. Half life of Strontium-90 is 28.7 years. All are Boiling Water Reactors except for Salem 1.

 

Appendix 4
Gaseous Airborne Releases, Strontium-89
US Reactors with Largest Releases, Total 2001-2004
Reactor, State
Millicuries of Sr-89
1. Oyster Creek (NJ)
59.2
2. LaSalle 1 (IL)
11.3
3. Quad Cities 1 (IL)
7.6
4. Cooper Station (NE)
4.9
5. Dresden 2 (IL)
4.0
6. Salem 1 (NJ)
2.1
7. Fermi 2 (MI)
1.9
8. Monticello (MN)
1.7
9. Nine Mile Point 1 (NY)
1.6
10. Browns Ferry 1 (AL)
1.1

Source: U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, www.reirs.com.
A millicurie equals one-thousandth of a curie. Half life of Strontium-89 is 50 days. All are Boiling Water Reactors except for Salem 1.

 

Appendix 5
Average Strontium-90 Levels in Baby Teeth
In Picocuries per Gram of Calcium at Birth,
New Jersey, 1975-1998
Birth Year
Average Sr-90
Number Teeth
1975-1977
5.89
(11)
1978-1980
4.99
( 9)
1981-1983
3.14
(14)
1984-1986
3.50
(16)
1987-1989
2.74
(65)
1990-1992
3.82
(81)
1993-1995
3.95
(77)
1996-1998
5.47
(10)
Percent Change from 1987-89 to 1996-98 =+99.6%
Source: Radiation and Public Health Project.
A picocurie is one-trillionth of a curie. Teeth were among 300 tested using a Perkin-Elmer scintillation counter, designed to accurately detect low levels of radiation in matter.

 

Appendix 6
Trends in Population of Monmouth and Ocean Counties
Year
Monmouth
Ocean
Total
Two Counties
1900
82,057
19,747
101,804
1910
94,734
21,318
116,052
1920
104,925
22,155
127,080
1930
147,209
33,069
180,278
1940
161,238
37,706
198,944
1950
225,327
56,622
281,949
1960
334,401
108,241
442,642
1970
459,379
208,470
667,849
1980
503,173
346,038
849,211
1990
553,124
433,203
986,327
2000
615,301
510,916
1,126,217
2007 est
657,700
578,600
1,236,300
2025 est
786,800
731,900
1,518,700
Source: U.S. Census Bureau, www.census.gov/population/cencounts/nj190090.txt(for 1900-1990 populations).
State of New Jersey, Department of Labor and Workforce Development, www.wnjpin.net (for 2000-2005 populations).

 

Appendix 7
Selected Demographic Characteristics,
and Ocean and Counties
Compared to New Jersey and the United States
Indicator
Monmouth
Ocean
NJ
US

2005 % Black

8.1
3.4
14.5
12.8
2005 % Hispanic
7.6
6.3
15.2
14.4
2000 % Foreign born
10.4
6.5
17.5
11.1
2000 % English not spoken at home, age > 5
14.7
10.9
25.5
17.9
2000 % HS grad, age > 25
87.9
83.0
82.1
80.4
2000 % Coll grad, age > 25
34.6
19.5
29.8
24.4
2000 % Homeownership
74.6
83.2
65.6
66.2
2000 % Living in multi-
unit structures
23.6
13.5
36.1
26.4
2003 Median h’hold income
68,313
48,253
56356
43318
2003 % Below poverty
6.5
8.1
8.9
12.5

 

Appendix 8
Ocean County Cancer Death Rates, vs. U.S.
Before and After Oyster Creek Startup in 1969
Type of Cancer
% Ocean is +/- US (No.)
% Change
1965-69
1970-84
Increases

All Cancers Except Leukemia

+ 4%
(1824)
+10%
(12871)
+ 6%
Brain/Central Nervous
-32%
( 25)
+ 2%
( 287)
+34%
(F) Breast
+ 0%
( 154)
+12%
( 1111)
+12%
Colon and Rectum
+21%
( 330)
+24%
( 2070)
+ 3%
Hodgkin’s Disease
- 28%
( 13)
+ 8%
( 68)
+36%
Leukemia
- 13%
( 71)
- 1%
( 471)
+12%
Multiple Myeloma
- 29%
( 16)
- 6%
( 175)
+23%
Stomach
+ 9%
( 110)
+15%
( 508)
+ 6%
Thyroid+
- 66%
( 2)
- 26%
( 23)
40%
Child cancer age 0-19
- 25%
( 17)
- 13%
( 62)
+12%
No Change
Lung, Bronchus, Trachea
+16%
( 395)
+16%
( 3427)
+ 0%
Lymphoma
- 12%
( 47)
- 12%
( 330)
+ 0%
Decreases
Bladder
+41%
( 76)
+18%
( 389)
- 23%
Bone and Joint
+113%
( 21)
- 2%
( 39)
-115%
Liver
+35%
( 71)
+14%
( 190)
- 21%
Source: Jablon S. et al, Cancer in Populations Living Near Nuclear Facilities. National Cancer Institute, NIH Pub. No. 90-874. U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington DC, 1990.

 

Appendix 9
Cancer Incidence Rates, Whites, By New Jersey County, 1999-2003
County
Cases
Rate
% +/- US

1. Oc

20534
562.9
+17.7
2. Monmouth
16009
556.6
+16.3
3. Cape May
3861
554.2
+15.8
4. Warren
2920
551.9
+15.4
5. Sussex
3459
544.8
+13.9
6. Gloucester
6113
544.7
+13.9
7. Atlantic
6005
542.4
+13.4
8. Burlington
10090
537.2
+12.3
9. Morris
11958
535.4
+11.9
10. Bergen
24646
534.9
+11.8
11. Camden
11254
534.5
+11.7
12. Mercer
7573
527.3
+10.2
13. Middlesex
16646
526.7
+10.1
14. Essex
11951
515.2
+ 7.7
15. Salem
1585
510.2
+ 6.6
16. Union
11317
507.5
+ 6.1
17. Hunterdon
2952
502.7
+ 5.1
18. Cumberland
3153
501.3
+ 4.8
19. Somerset
6268
492.3
+ 2.9
20. Passaic
9991
488.4
+ 2.1
21. Hudson
10326
455.1
- 4.9
NJ rate
 
526.4
 
US rate
 
478.4
 

Note: Whites accounted for 95% of the cancer cases in Monmouth and Ocean Counties in 1999-2003.
Source: New Jersey Cancer Registry, www.cancer-rates.info/nj/alldetails.php. US rate is for 2000-2003, based on nine states and cities. All rates per 100,000, adjusted to the 2000 U.S. standard population.

 

Appendix 10
Cancer Incidence 0-9, Monmouth and Ocean Counties vs. Other NJ and US, 1985-2003
Year
Total Cases
Rate/100,000
Ocean
Mon.
Oth NJ
Ocean
Mon.
Oth NJ
1985
13
10
141
26.2
14.4
16.7
1986
7
15
140
13.6
21.0
16.3
1987
12
12
134
22.6
16.2
15.3
1988
8
23
137
14.6
30.5
15.4
1989
15
14
144
26.6
18.3
15.8
1990
12
13
153
21.1
16.9
16.8
1991
15
15
169
25.7
19.0
18.1
1992
8
15
170
13.4
18.4
17.8
1993
16
7
158
26.0
8.4
16.2
1994
6
18
178
9.5
20.9
17.8
1995
9
19
159
13.9
18.3
15.8
1996
11
29
172
16.7
32.7
16.9
1997
9
19
155
13.6
21.4
15.3
1998
12
15
176
18.1
16.8
17.3
1999
14
10
165
21.2
11.2
16.3
2000
13
17
166
19.5
19.1
16.4
2001
12
10
173
17.9
11.4
17.2
2002
17
14
180
25.1
16.2
17.9
2003
16
13
169
23.3
15.3
16.8
TOTAL
225
285
3039
19.33
18.20
16.65
% +/- Oth NJ
+16.1
+ 9.3
 
% +/- U.S. (see below)
+24.0
+16.7
 
 
US Cancer Incidence Rates, Age 0-9
Based on Nine States and Metropolitan Areas
1984-2003
 
US Rate/100,000
Rate/100,000
Period
Age 0-4
Age 5-9
US
Mon/
Ocean
% +/- US
1984-1988
19.1
11.2
15.15
 
 
1989-1993
20.5
11.2
15.85
 
 
1994-1998
20.6
10.9
15.75
 
 
1984-1998
20.07
11.10
15.59
18.96
+21.6%
Source: National Cancer Institute, www.seer.cancer.gov. US rate includes Connecticut, Hawaii, Iowa, New Mexico, Utah, Atlanta area, Detroit area, San Francisco area, Seattle area; after 1998, additional areas are used.

 

Appendix 11
Mortality Rates per 100,000 Population
From Cancer and From All Other Causes
Monmouth/Ocean Counties vs. U.S., 1985-2003

Cause of Death

Mon./Ocean
US
% Local


Deaths
Rate
Rate
is +/- U.S.

Cancer 0-14

133
3.27
2.88
+13.4%
Other Causes 0-14
2237
54.94
80.48
- 31.7%
         
Cancer 15-44
1745
21.26
18.99
+12.0%
Other Causes 15-44
8592
104.68
125.18
- 16.4%
         
All Ages
       
Cancer, W
51430
224.96
203.20
+10.7%
Other Causes, W
151451
653.86
680.01
- 3.8%
         
All Ages
       
Cancers, B
2478
275.36
261.40
+ 5.3%
Other Causes, B
8475
928.36
924.55
+ 0.4%
Source: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, http://wonder.cdc.gov, underlying cause of death. Uses ICD-9 cancer codes 140.0-208.9 (1994-1998) and ICD-10 cancer codes C00-C97.9 (1999-2003). Rates are per 100,000. White and black rates adjusted to the 2000 U.S. standard.

 

Appendix 12
Mortality Rates per 100,000 Population
Breast Cancer, White Females
Monmouth/Ocean Counties vs. U.S., 1985-2003
Cause of Death
Mon./Ocean
U.S.
% Local is
is +/- U.S.
 
Deaths
Rate
Rate
 

Breast Cancer 25-44

263
9.75
8.15
+19.6%
Non-Cancers 25-44
1523
56.46
64.79
- 12.9%
Breast Cancer 45-64
1223
60.84
51.18
+18.9%
Non-Cancers 45-64
5397
268.49
282.58
- 5.0%
Breast Cancer 65+
3000
153.88
126.49
+21.7%
Non-Cancers 65+
70069
3594.1
3736.2
- 3.2%
Breast Cancer, All Ages
4486
35.51
29.58
+20.1%
Non-Cancers, All Ages
78071
527.92
552.85
- 4.5%
Source: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, http://wonder.cdc.gov, underlying cause of death. Uses ICD-9 breast cancer codes 174.0-174.9 (1994-1998) and ICD-10 cancer codes C50-C50.9 (1999-2003). Rates are per 100,000. All age rate adjusted to the 2000 U.S. standard.

 

Appendix 13
Change in Cancer Incidence Rates, Age 0-4
Counties Downwind and <40 Miles of Closed Reactors
Before and After Reactor Closing
Reactor
Year Closed
Counties Downwind and
<40 Miles

LaCrosse

1987
LaCrosse, Vernon WI
Rancho Seco
1989
Amador, El Dorado, Placer, Sacramento CA
Fort St. Vrain
1989
Larimer, Weld CO
Big Rock Point
1997
Antrim, Charlevoix, Cheboygan, Emmet, Otsego MI
Maine Yankee
1997
Kennebec, Knox, Lincoln ME
Zion
1998
Lake IL; Kenosha, Racine WI
 

Reactor

Before Close
After Close
Cases/100,000 (No.)
     
Before
After
% Change

LaCrosse

’86-87
’88-94
40.0 ( 7)
24.6 ( 15)
-38.5%
Rancho Seco
’88-89
’90-96
24.0 (50)
17.6 (153)
-26.9%
Fort St. Vrain
’88-89
’90-96
20.3 (10)
18.0 ( 32)
-11.7%
Big Rock Pt.
’96-97
’98-00
45.0 ( 7)
21.1 ( 5)
-53.1%
Me. Yankee
’96-97
‘98-01
38.1 ( 8)
27.2 ( 11)
-28.5%
Zion
’97-98
’99-00
21.2 (32)
19.7 ( 30)
- 7.0%
TOTAL
   
24.7 (114)
18.5 (246)
- 24.8%
U.S. ANNUAL AVERAGE CHANGE, 1986-1998
+ 0.3%
Sources: State cancer registries, in Mangano JJ et al. "Infant Death and Childhood Cancer Reductions after Nuclear Plant Closings in the United States," Archives of Environmental Health 2002;57(10):23-32.

 

Appendix 14
Change in Infant Mortality Rate
Counties Downwind and <40 Miles of Closed Reactors
Two Years Before and After Reactor Closing
Reactor
Year Closed
Counties Downwind and <40 Miles

LaCrosse

1987
LaCrosse, Vernon WI
Rancho Seco
1989
Amador, El Dorado, Placer, Sacramento CA
Fort St. Vrain
1989
Larimer, Weld CO
Trojan
1992
Columbia, Multnomah OR; Clark, Cowlitz, Wakhiakum WA
Big Rock Point
1997
Antrim, Charlevoix, Cheboygan, Emmet, Otsego MI

Maine Yankee
1997
Kennebec, Knox, Lincoln ME
Zion
1998
Lake IL; Kenosha, Racine WI

*Pilgrim
1986
Plymouth MA
*Millstone
1995
New London, Tolland, Windham CT; Kent, Washington RI
* Temporary closings. Pilgrim was closed for most of 1987-1988, Millstone for most of 1996-1997.
 
Reactor
Deaths <1Yr.
Deaths/1000 (No.)
% Ch Rate

Before
After
Before
After
 

LaCrosse

36
30
10.27
8.69
-15.4%
Rancho Seco
418
390
9.39
7.89
-16.0%
Fort St. Vrain
83
72
8.53
7.22
-15.4%
Trojan
253
204
8.34
6.85
-17.9%
Big Rock Pt.
25
15
8.56
5.08
-40.7%

Me. Yankee

19
18
4.95
4.46
- 9.9%
Zion
188
159
6.24
5.36
-14.1%
Pilgrim
97
76
7.49
5.67
-24.3%
Millstone
166
130
7.46
6.16
-17.4%
TOTAL
1285
1094
8.02
6.68
-16.7%
U.S. AVG. 2 YEAR CHANGE, 1986-1998
- 6.9%

Note: “Before Close” period is year before closing and year of closing, “After Close” period is following two years. For example, LaCrosse closed in 1987, so before and after periods are 1986-1987 and 1988-1989.

Sources: State cancer registries, in Mangano JJ et al. "Infant Death and Childhood Cancer Reductions after Nuclear Plant Closings in the United States," Archives of Environmental Health 2002;57(10):23-32.

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