years after lawsuit dismissed, debate continues on partial meltdown's
4, 2006 — Ten years ago a judge ruled there was insufficient evidence to
link radiation from the Three Mile Island accident to health problems in
test cases of about 2,000 plaintiffs.
some people who co-exist with the operating nuclear plant continue to
question whether the partial meltdown on March 28, 1979, released
radiation into the environment that has affected their health.
live in the historical shadow of a plant that suffered a partial meltdown,
the worst nuclear accident in United States history.
is the 10-year anniversary of U.S. District Judge Sylvia H. Rambo's
ruling. The rest of the plaintiffs lost on appeal in 2002.
everything about the accident seems to be up for dispute, depending on who
you ask, from how much radiation left the plant, to where it traveled, to
what groups of people might have been affected, to what, if any, health
effects have occurred or might occur in the future.
scientific studies seem to conflict. Some find links to health problems.
Others do not. A new analysis notes more-than-expected cases of thyroid
cancer in York and Lancaster counties over a period of years and pro-
poses - but doesn't conclude - that it could be because of exposure to
radiation from the accident.
some, questions linger
a year of the accident, a German shepherd developed cataracts and a cat
gave birth to a litter of deformed kittens, Debbie Baker said. The pets
belonged to her mother, who lived about five miles from the plant.
1980, Baker gave birth to Bradley. As a 23-year-old Fairview Township
mother with a son who had Down syndrome, Baker's thoughts turned to
they evacuated, Baker had been taking her daughter to a babysitter in
Goldsboro - not knowing she was pregnant with her second child.
joined a class action lawsuit and wanted a day in court, but eventually
accepted a monetary settlement. That settlement was accepted before the
about 2,000 other plaintiffs brought suit, she said.
at 49, in her Camp Hill home, Baker has a radiation monitor. It's never
reached a level that would convince her to evacuate. She said she doesn't
live in fear, but remains concerned about whether what happened that day
affected her unborn child.
always - like a wonder - you can't ever prove it," Baker said.
E. Thomas, now 76, was one of the about 2,000 plaintiffs. Janet and James
Thomas left their Foustown home the weekend of the accident to travel to
the Appalachian Mountains for a square-dancing festival. With other
dancers, they joked about glowing in the dark.
James Thomas, who loved to be outside gardening, developed skin cancer.
the lawsuit ended, the Thomases gave up.
just figured it was a lost cause and let it drop," Janet Thomas said.
the couple lives in the same house.
some, no worries
a recent May day, the Susquehanna River sparkled blue. On Cly Road in
Newberry Township sits a quaint house with a small sign advertising
"FRESH BROWN EGGS."
Sipe, 55, and her husband have lived in the house with a view of the
cooling towers for about two decades. She believes people have blown the
accident out of proportion.
like it out here," Sipe said. "Not a lot of traffic, everyone
area has filled in with more residential housing - about eight years ago,
those places behind her house were cornfields, Sipe said.
family has a friend who works at the nuclear power plant. There are no
problems, don't worry, he has told them.
doesn't even cross our mind," Sipe said.
River Drive, the street rises with a steep hill. The tree farm lot
provides a view of white puffs billowing out of the cooling towers.
and Sue Haring own Haring Tree Farms.
same year as the accident, but after it occurred, they started their
Christmas tree farm on River Drive in Cly. They live nearby.
condition of the land is fine," Sue Haring said.
Haring, 62, grows corn, tomatoes, onions, potatoes and other vegetables
with his grandchildren. They sell some. His granddaughter, Lindsey Keiser,
5, is in charge of pumpkins - she's low to the ground, that's good for
planting, he tells her.
was not working at Three Mile Island the day of the accident, but he
worked there for nine years building scaffolding inside the plant.
were the first ones to enter areas where updates or repairs were needed
because they created the structures electricians and others needed to
stand on, he said.
Haring said he believes nuclear plants are safe.
wife, Sue, 61, has breast cancer. She's taken radiation and chemotherapy.
She said she believes she inherited her disease; both her grandmother and
two aunts had breast cancer.
have cancer all over the United States," Sue Haring said. "It's
really hard to say did (the accident) do it."
debate: No link
studies on the Three Mile Island accident have different conclusions. Some
people even interpret them differently.
the time Columbia University investigators published their findings in
1990 that they saw no link between radiation and cancer cases, the lawsuit
of about 2,000 plaintiffs was under way.
state Department of Health also performed studies. None showed an
increased risk of cancer related to the Three Mile Island accident, said
Richard McGarvey, health department spokesman.
health study showed a higher risk of low-birth weight babies in women who
lived within a 10-mile-radius, but that was determined to be associated
with a higher use of sedatives that appeared to be associated with the
stress pregnant women were feeling, McGarvey said.
the mid-1980s, the state health department updated a registry of 35,000
people who lived within a 10-mile-radius of Three Mile Island, McGarvey
registry of women pregnant at the time of the accident and the children
they bore was updated through the state fiscal year of 1994-95, he said.
Nothing unusual was showing up in the database, so the registry was cut
out of the budget, McGarvey said.
studies of radiological consequences of the Three Mile Island accident
were done by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the Environmental
Protection Agency, what is now the U.S. Department of Health and Human
Services, the U.S. Department of Energy and Pennsylvania, according to the
Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
average radiation dose to people living within 10 miles of the plant was 8
millirem, and any single person would have received less than 100 millirem,
according to the American Nuclear Society.
people receive about 5 millirem per week from the environment. A chest
X-ray exposes a person to about 6 millirem, according to the society.
have shown that radiation's immediate effects are not observed until
35,000 millirem, said Brian Grimes, who retired from the Nuclear
Regulatory Commission in 1996 and is a spokesman for the nuclear society.
15,000 millirem, temporary sterility in humans is clinically testable,
from Three Mile Island did not find any statistically significant
increases in cancer cases, he said.
Alfred Wilcox of Pepper Hamilton LLP in Philadelphia represented the three
power companies and their parent company, GPU, that the about 2,000
plaintiffs sued. Rambo's decision should give comfort to anyone concerned
that the radiation adversely affected their health, Wilcox said.
plaintiffs' case fell apart with their complicated theory that a blowout
of radiation from the reactor avoided all of the detection monitors and
huge doses hit pine and spruce trees and people, Wilcox said.
showed the judge, actually, those trees were affected by a tree fungus and
parasite," he said.
said there are more important subjects to spend research money on than
whether the Three Mile Island accident had any health effects.
idea that somebody would do a better job of looking at that today is kind
of silly," he said.
say the accident presents a unique opportunity for continued study.
Talbott, a professor of epidemiology at the University of Pittsburgh, said
that, even though exposures during the accident were low, the population
should continue to be followed. That might be possible using the state
health department's cancer registry, she said.
one of her studies, a 20-year follow-up of mortality, published in 2003,
Talbott used information from the state's registry for residents who lived
within a five-mile radius of Three Mile Island, combined with the state's
mortality data. The study found radioactivity released during the nuclear
accident did not appear to have caused more cancer deaths in residents
between 1979 and 1998, Talbott said.
did find a hint of higher breast cancer rates, likely caused by gamma
exposure in the days after the accident, but that trend appeared to weaken
between the 1992 and 1998 study updates, she said.
debate: Possible link
researchers have found what they say are links between radiation released
Wing, who conducted a study on behalf of the about 2,000 plaintiffs, said
his research improved upon the Columbia study, but produced different
associate professor in the epidemiology department at the University of
North Carolina, Chapel Hill, found as the estimated radiation dose
increased, the cancer incidence increased after the accident, based on
where plumes from the accident traveled.
researchers looked at the difference between the pre-accident period, 1976
to 1979, compared to two sets of years post-accident, 1984 to 1985 and
1981 to 1985.
found positive relationships between accident dose estimates and cancer
rates for leukemia, lung cancer and all cancers combined.
criticisms were mainly that we weren't supposed to find that," he
data was available to nuclear industry scientists, and researchers had the
opportunity to point out mistakes, but none did, he said.
Rambo decided 10 years ago not to include some of the study data and then
the plaintiffs' appeal lost, Wing said he was disappointed.
feel it was a disservice to the general public," he said. "It's
a disservice to the history of this accident. ... Our interpretation of
the results is that the doses were larger than what had been
reviewing state Department of Health data, a Harrisburg-area doctor found
more thyroid cancer cases than expected in York County for every year
except one between 1990 and 2002.
Roger Levin, a head and neck surgeon who has experience treating thyroid
cancer, said one reason for the higher incidence of thyroid cancer could
be that people were exposed to radiation during the TMI accident.
thyroid - a gland in the neck - controls the body's overall metabolism. It
manages weight, pulse rate and body temperature.
the thyroid needs iodine to make its hormone, it's possible the gland
could have taken in more radioactive iodine during the accident, Levin
said. The gland cannot distinguish between radioactive iodine and the type
found in table salt, which is why the state passes out non-radioactive
iodine pills. In theory, people could take the pills during a nuclear
accident to fill up the gland to protect it.
the increased cases in York and Lancaster counties, Levin said,
radioactive material could have traveled to those counties by water, since
it seems the wind was not blowing in that direction during the accident
and days after.
Levin started his research, he expected to see no difference in the number
of thyroid cancer cases expected and the number reported in area counties.
farther away than York and Lancaster from the accident showed no
sort of don't know what to do with the data except throw it out there and
let (people) smarter than me debate it," Levin said.
James, 46, of West York said she believes the Three Mile Island accident
caused her thyroid cancer. At the time, she was a student at Lock Haven
University of Pennsylvania.
January 2004, after three years of feeling tired and achy, James had a
nodule removed from her neck. Her mother has thyroid problems, but not
cancer, James said.
said her cancer could have a connection to breathing the air after the
accident or from the effects the radiation had on the environment.
because I used to eat a lot of organic foods," James said.
concerns and wonders have become part of the shadow Three Mile Island has
left on the region.
Bruce Smith, R-Dillsburg, said people still talk to him about the
accident. They tell him they believe there are higher cancer rates in the
area because of it, he said.
is no doubt in my mind the (health department's) studies were
flawed," Smith said.
the time of the accident, Smith was chairman of the board in Newberry
Township, the largest municipality on the West Shore within a 5-mile
radius of the plant.
children stood outside at the bus stop that morning. After the accident,
his wife, Patricia Smith, became active in the fight to make sure the
plant was safe. When one unit re-opened in 1985, the Smiths moved to
placed 22 miles between their home and the reactors. No longer could they
see the cooling towers from their home.
tower) was too much of a reminder of the accident and mental turmoil and
frustration my wife went through at the time of the accident," Smith
asked to comment about the 25th anniversary in 2004, a FirstEnergy
spokesman said that, since the 1979 partial meltdown, the Unit 2 reactor
has been in a state of long-term monitored storage.
workers removed 300,000 pounds of core material from TMI Unit 2 before the
project was completed in December 1993.
FirstEnergy spokesman said last week the company could not comment on
possible health effects because it did not own TMI Unit 2 at the time of
some, the plant is part of the scenery. For others, it's a symbol of
hidden effects of a past event and clues to why certain people got sick.
Epstein of Three Mile Island Alert Inc., an activist group formed before
the 1979 accident, said he believes people affected by the radiation will
get a day in court, even if it's decades from now. Epstein is convinced
that the accident has led to adverse health effects in the area, but he
still lives there.
a great place to live, he said. "There is nowhere you can go where
there is not an environmental threat," Epstein said.
monitor the radiation and watch.
will question the health effects of TMI for at least a generation,"
Jennifer Nejman at 771-2026 or email@example.com.
following studies deal with Three Mile Island:
Steve Wing, associate
professor, epidemiology department, UNC, Chapel Hill
study was conducted on behalf of the about 2,000 plaintiffs who claimed
emissions of radioactive gases during the Three Mile Island accident were
much larger than the industry and government stated and that intense
plumes had exposed small areas to high radiation doses, resulting in
adverse health effects, including cancer.
Wing's research found positive relationships between accident dose
estimates and cancer rates for leukemia, lung cancer and all cancers
combined. The study looked at the difference between the pre-accident
period, 1976 to 1979, compared with two sets of years post-accident, 1984
to 1985, and 1981 to 1985.
for radiation effects were larger for cancers that occurred in 1984 to
1985 than for cancers that occurred in 1981 to 1985, an observation
consistent with there being more time for cancers to develop after
exposure. Those estimates were larger when statistical adjustments were
made for differences in socioeconomic status between areas of low and high
Evelyn Talbott, professor
of epidemiology, University of Pittsburgh, Graduate School of Public
2003 study was a 20-year follow-up of mortality data on residents who
lived within a 5-mile radius of Three Mile Island. She used data collected
by the state Department of Health in interviews conducted with 32,135
residents within two months of the accident. The exposure data was
combined with mortality data from the state.
study found overall cancer deaths in the local population were similar to
cancer death rates statewide. Radioactivity released during the nuclear
accident does not appear to have caused more cancer deaths in residents
between 1979 and 1998, she said.
with regard to specific cancer sites, the risk of cancers of the
hematopoietic blood system, such as leukemias and lymphomas, were greater
for naturally occurring radiation, called background radiation, that comes
from the earth's crust.
is an area around Three Mile Island that has this higher background
radiation and should be considered for further study, Talbott said. The
area is known as the Reading Prong and it occurs in southeastern
Pennsylvania in the southern parts of Lebanon, Berks, Lehigh and
Northampton counties. Talbott cautioned that more work should be done
before conclusions can be made about this area.
study found a hint of higher breast cancer rates, likely caused by gamma
exposure the days after the accident, but this trend appeared to weaken
between the 1992 and 1998 study updates.
Dr. Roger Levin,chief
division of otolaryngology/head and neck surgery, PinnacleHealth System in
Harrisburg, and clinical associate professor of surgery, Penn State
College of Medicine
did his research so he could join The Triological Society, a society for
ear, nose and throat specialists and head and neck surgeons. His paper is
scheduled to be published in the society's peer-reviewed journal, The
Laryngoscope, in an upcoming month.
In reviewing state health data, Levin found more thyroid cancer cases than
expected in York County for every year except one between 1995 and 2002.
plausible reason could be people were exposed to radiation during the 1979
Three Mile Island accident, he said.
the accident, the thyroid gland could have taken in radioactive iodine or
people could have brought increased levels into their systems through food
grown in the area or other environmental factors, he said.
said two factors that could have made a link to the Three Mile Island
accident more convincing did not occur: the winds were blowing northwest,
not toward York County, and there was no increase in thyroid cancer in
populations younger than 20 years old.
he said he found in his readings that a small amount of radiation was
vented into the Susquehanna River in the form of wastewater from parts of
the plant that were not part of the cooling systems, such as toilets,
showers and laundry facilities.
children and expectant mothers were evacuated in the days following the
accident, Levin said.
cancer is increasing in the United States. Some say it's due to better
diagnosis; others attribute exposure to radiation, Levin said.
group looks for radioactive chemicals from nuclear sites
Mangano wants your baby teeth.
for the same sentimental reasons parents safeguard their children's teeth
as childhood keepsakes, but rather to try to prove what he believes are
the dangers of living close to a nuclear reactor.
1998, the Radiation and Public Health Project in Norristown has collected
more than 5,000 teeth from people who live close to one of the eight U.S.
nuclear sites, and from people who don't live near the sites, Mangano
November, the Radiation and Public Health Project added Three Mile Island
in Dauphin County to its list of nuclear sites and started to collect
teeth from nearby residents, he said.
is the national coordinator for the Radiation and Public Health Project.
the project, several dozen teeth have been collected from people who live
near TMI. The teeth will be tested for levels of Strontium-90, a
radioactive chemical found in the waste of nuclear reactors that has been
linked to bone cancer, cancer of the soft tissue near the bone and
may also contaminate reactor parts and fluids, according to the U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency.
decade has passed since U.S. Middle District Chief Judge Sylvia Rambo
dismissed 2,100 cases filed by people who claimed their health problems
could be traced back to the partial meltdown of TMI Unit 2 on March 28,
me," Mangano said, "the health effects (related to the partial
meltdown) are almost as big as the story of the accident itself."
that day, mechanical failure and human oversight led to what is considered
the worst commercial nuclear accident in American history.
a result of the partial meltdown, people who lived near the plant at the
time of the accident were exposed to a small amount of radioactive
goal of Mangano's group is to collect baby teeth from before and after the
TMI Unit 2 accident to test for the Strontium-90 levels.
in 1985 by founders Jay Gould and Ernest Sternglass, the project's goals,
according to Mangano, are:
account for any health risks posed by nuclear reactors.
point out any resistance by government officials to fully disclose the
health effects of nuclear power.
50, has a master's degree in public health, with a focus on disease
prevention, from the University of North Carolina.
joined the Radiation and Public Health Project in 1989.
had a desire to contribute to preventive health," he said.
"Especially since our health system is so strongly focused on disease
diagnosis and treatment, and not on prevention."
regularly attends public hearings concerning nuclear power plants,
including Peach Bottom Atomic Power Station, to raise public awareness
about the health effects of nuclear reactors.
collection of teeth by the project is one way to alert the public to any
health risks posed by nuclear sites, Mangano said.
from the area around TMI, the project has collected teeth from Indian
Point in New York, Oyster Creek in New Jersey, Limerick in Pennsylvania,
Saint Lucie in Florida, Turkey Point in Florida, Diablo Canyon in
California and Brookhaven National Laboratory in New York.
80 percent of the teeth collected came from people who live close to one
of those sites.
testing baby teeth, researchers with the project have found that people
who live close to nuclear sites have ingested high amounts of
who live in counties closest to nuclear reactors have an average level of
Strontium-90 in their teeth that is 30 to 50 percent higher than children
tested in more distant counties.
some people may inhale trace amounts of Strontium-90 as dust, the most
common pathway would be for residents to swallow the chemical via food and
is a byproduct found in the fission of uranium. During the 1950s and
1960s, large amounts of Strontium-90 were produced during atmospheric
nuclear weapons tests and dispersed worldwide, according to the U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency.
1998 and 2003, the Radiation and Public Health Project received 106 baby
teeth from children with cancer. The group tested the teeth for
some of those teeth were very small or decayed, leaving little intact
enamel for testing, accurate test results were available for little more
than half of the samples.
results showed that the 54 teeth had an average Strontium-90 concentration
about 60 percent higher than teeth from children without cancer.
the end of the year, Mangano's group plans to announce its test results
regarding baby teeth taken from residents who live close to TMI.
will take any baby teeth from anybody, but most of the teeth we are
collecting come from now," he said. "We would like to get more
teeth from people who were born before the accident so we can
Sean Adkins at 771-2047 or firstname.lastname@example.org.