“A baby that has no head is a baby that has no head.” – a different approach to the question of radiation and birth deformities, How do you find out if low levels of ionising radiation cause birth defects and genetic abnormalities? by Noel Wauchope, 23/10/12
The usual approach is to look at causes – at radiation as a cause. Scientists measure radiation levels in an area, and study or predict health results. Studies on small animal life in Chernobyl and Fukushima, have indicated genetic damage due to radiation.
Many reports have described birth defects linking them to radiation affected areas – Fallujah in Iraq, Chernobyl 2010 Paul Zimmerman http://www.globalresearch.ca/uranium-weapons-low-level-radiation-and-deformed-babies/16726 , 2009 Video and article http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/nov/13/falluja-cancer-children-birth-defects
But, as the nuclear lobby loves to remind us – a link is not a proof And the World Health Organisation has remained silent on these matters. Why? Since 1959, an agreement signed between WHO and the International Atomic Energy Agency, and then a number of additional legal texts, prohibit WHO from intervening in research into health effects of nuclear accidents.
What about studying consequences rather than causes? Studying birth abnormalities in places where they occur more often than is normal? The Omni-Net Ukraine Birth Defects Prevention Program, came up with this different approach, reported in July 2012. http://ibis-birthdefects.org/start/pdf/BaltimoreAbstr.pdf Measuring radiation is difficult, and can produce ambiguous results. But measuring babies with malformations is a concrete matter. Facts are facts here As Dr Vladimir Wertelecki says “ a baby that has no head is a baby that has no head.”
The program started in 2000, conducting a 10 year study on 5 provinces of the Ukraine – measuring and monitoring all newborn babies. The study, led by Dr Wertelecki, was done in co-operation with Ukraine health authorities. This was a descriptive epidemiological study. It could prove only a difference between geographical areas. It cannot prove the cause of difference.
Within 2-3 years it was obvious that the rates of spina bifida and other defects of the nervous system, were many times greater than expected, particularly in one province. A few years later an excess of conjoined twins (“Siamese twins”) was found. They found other nervous system problems, mainly microcephaly (tiny head) .. After 10 years of study they published a report showing an excess of frequency of anomalies of nervous system and of these conjoined twins.
This was found especially in the northern half of the province – an area that is a unique ecology niche – mainly wetlands. And this area also has a unique population, an ethnic group living there since recorded history. They live in small villages, very isolated, and they rely completely on local foods.
These foods are all radioactive. The soil there is such that plants absorb many times more radioactivity. People there are absorbing much higher levels of radiation. – 20 times more than there would be in soil 50 km. away.
Dr Wertelecki reminds us that there are many causes of birth abnormalities. One well recognised cause is foetal alcohol syndrome, due to alcoholism in the mother. However, the program did in fact research this question. 6 universities joined it in a very well funded and thorough study of pregnant women. It showed that in this Northern area, alcohol use among pregnant women is statistically less than in the Ukraine in general. . Alcohol does not explain the birth abnormalities. Radiation is the obvious major cause.
ABNORMALITIES IN THE DEVELOPING FOETUS- TERATOGENESIS
Little research has been done on the causes of this in humans. Studies on non human species show that foetuses in first three months are about 1000 times more vulnerable to environmental effects.
Dr Wertelecki’s team focused on teratogenesis – changes caused by environmental interference to a developing foetus, a foetus with with normal genes. This must be distinguished from gene mutations, inherited from parents and the two processes have different effects. The genetic, inherited defects are most likely to cause mental disability. But with the teratogenic abnormalities, the baby, if it survives, most often is of normal intelligence.
This process can begin very early, before the ovum has been implanted in the wall of the womb – before the woman knows that she is pregnant. That very early “line” of the embryo can split. In this case – the result is – twins. This split can be incomplete – resulting in conjoined twins, (“Siamese twins”). A fetiform teratoma is a sort of failed Siamese twin, a monster like mass, containing a mixture of tissues.
Abnormalities that are started at a little later stage of pregnancy include spina bifida, ( opening in lower back body wall), opening in front body wall with heart on the exterior, anencephaly (absence of head or of most of the skull and brain)
Later effects – anophthalmia , (missing eyeball) , microphthalmia (tiny eye)
WHAT KINDS OF CONDITIONS RESULT FROM IONISING RADIATION?
Exposure to radiation has 3 types of effects.:
1. acute or Immmediate effects – burns, radiation sickness
2. teratogenesis – impacts rapidly developing tissue – as an external interference factor
3. delayed – cancers, genetic changes. Genetic changes have long range effects – before birth and later – even into the next generation chromosomes affected – in egg or sperm – resulting in a hereditary chromosome problem.
GENETIC EFFECTS OF CHERNOBYL RADIATION – GENOMIC INSTABILITY?
This Ukraine province study concentrated on the second effect – teratogenesis. However, remember that in this area, there is a unique population. This isolated ethnic group stay within the area. So, here we have a third generation exposed to radiation since before their conception. This is because for some young women, say 16 years old in 1986, even if they were not pregnant, their oocytes absorbed radiation.
Later, in pregnancy, their foetus would be exposed to that radiation. Those babies, now teenagers, will in turn, have their babies exposed to the radiation affected chromosomes.
So here, this particular population is indeed a test case for that third, delayed, effect. This brings in the question of gene mutations and chromosomes – the unpredictable subject of genomic instability. It is not surprising that politicians, and people in general, do not understand genomic instability. Scientists do not understand it, and what it means for future populations.
The consequences of genomic instability have not been studied, in humans. We know that abnormal genes cause abnormal cells, abnormal tissues, and hence, abnormal organisms, aging process, cancer. Genomic instability in a population will produce changes, some perceptible, some not. It will cause infertility, or changes in the rates of degenerative diseases. It is hard to do study genomic instability in humans, – for example, how to study the fertilised egg that never gets implanted?
Still, research into this is now an emerging science, that is now being studied with human cells in vitro.
Meanwhile, genomic instability is now studied in a variety of non human organisms. There are research results on butterflies and birds. Danish ornithologists found very serious instability in Chernobyl- the same results are being found in Fukushima. Results include weakened birds unable to migrate – microcephaly, crooked wings, abnormal tail feathers, and many male barn swallows are sterile.
RESEARCH INTO RADIATION LEVELS The Ukraine research team chose strontium as the radioactive isotope to study. Radiation dosimetry is complex because different radioisotopes affect different parts of the body Official measurements are usually done on caesium – probably because it is the easiest and least expensive to measure. Strontium measuring is much more specialised and expensive. Strontium is absorbed like calcium – teeth and bones bind calcium. Strontium is measured by USA consistently – they measured it after every atomic bomb test. The Ukraine study found that strontium was pervasive in the area.
WHAT IS THE MESSAGE FROM THIS RESEARCH INTO THE CHERNOBYL AFFECTED POPULATION?
The message is that science and medicine must turn their attention to young women, pregnant women, and children. There really can be no doubt about this. It is quite scandalous that official studies, both after Chernobyl and Fukushima continue to ignore children. The only emphasis on children is in measuring thyroid abnormalities, and the epidemic of thyroid cancer in Ukraine children. Apart from that, all the attention is on cancer, and adults. There is no registry of pregnant women. There is no monitoring of birth abnormalities.
Even radiation “acceptable” standards are set for adult males, not for women and children.
The absolute priority should be – women of reproductive age and children – whatever affects them will affect the most important principles of preventive health. There should be monitoring of congenital malformations. Ionising radiation is a most likely cause, though there are other causes as well. Ionising radiation is prevalent in areas other than Chernobyl and Fukushima – e.g. from coal burning plants, from dumping wastes.
There is now hope that official research priorities will change. There is a continually growing movement to free up the World Health Organisation from its present inability to do medical research in Chernobyl and Fukushima. From 1959 until now, the World Health Organisation has been hamstrung by its agreement with the IAEA. On May 12, 2011 history was quietly made when the new WHO Director-General Margaret Chan said “There is no safe low level of radiation.”