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Disproportionate Harm: Women and Children are more Vulnerable.
The Helen Caldicott Foundation: Disproportionate Harm, Initial Talking Points
There has been a lot of discussion about the spent fuel at Fukushima, especially now - about the reactor #4 spent fuel pool. The harm this could cause should it collapse is incalculable. But, the truth is we are getting sick and dying from radiation exposure already, and it is happening in disproportionate numbers. We need to keep referencing that this is happening now in Japan, and everywhere around the world. We are asking for your help in making this widely known. Please join us!
Disproportionate Harm: Women and Children are more Vulnerable.
This year the Helen Caldicott Foundation in partnership with NIRS, and all other groups who want to join us (national and international), will embark on the start of a major education to action campaign on the effects of radiation exposure on the health of all people. But, its particular focus will be the disproportionate risk radiation exposure poses to women and children. Buried in the literature to date is the fact that men are more resistant to radiation. The safety standards, which time has shown protect no one, were designed at the time of the Manhattan Project to protect young, healthy, western, men. Presumably, military men expected to accept a certain degree of risk in exchange for protecting their country.
Insufficient as it is, even the National Academy of Sciences BEIR V11 Report, widely accepted as the industry standard, clearly states:
- There is no safe dose of ionizing radiation. Any exposure can trigger cancer.
- Although the reasons are not yet clearly understood, women and children are significantly more vulnerable.
- Women are 40-60% more likely to get cancer than men, given the same exposure. They are about 50% (half again) more likely to acquire a fatal cancer from this exposure. This means that for every two men who die of radiation related cancer, three women will die given a similar exposure.
- Children between the ages of 0-5 are more vulnerable than all adults, both men and women. But what is almost never discussed, also from the BEIR V11 Report, is that in this age group little girls are twice as vulnerable as boys. This means that for every boy, there will be two girls who will acquire a fatal or non-fatal cancer.
This is truly shocking, and when applied to the situation in Japan leads to a horrifying vision of the future. But, the fact is, these same numbers have been found for exposure to tritium and other radioisotopes, released from every nuclear reactor legally and illegally. Furthermore, the industry’s denial that clusters of childhood leukemia exist around nuclear reactors has been refuted by a number of current studies that have found these clusters DO exist. This includes the recent KiKK Study from Germany, and the Geocap study in France.
If actuarial figures were holographs, we would start to see the people of Japan begin to fade before our eyes, with disproportionate vulnerability. For every two men, three women disappearing from the future, lost to cancers and radiation-related disease. For every adult, there will be disproportionately more children. For every boy, twice as many little girls... vanishing. This is a powerful image.
The other image we need to sear into the public mind is that radiation exposures are cumulative and contamination of the food chain is NOT just a tiny bit of radiation. It is many, many, internal exposures to ionizing radiation, large or small over time; exposures that may have bio-accumulated several times already, depending on the original source, as radiation moves up the food chain.
The top of the food chain for bioaccumulation is not the standard, neutered “reference man” pictured everywhere. It is the human baby, both the unborn foetus, and the newborn.
We talk a lot about the nuclear family. There is a stereotypical image where the father protects the mother and the family; the mother protects the children; the mother’s body protects the baby in the belly. But radiation creeps up behind this nuclear family. First it takes or harms the foetus; then it takes the little girls; then the little boys; then the mother, and, finally, the father. No one in this hypothetical family is safe from radiation generated and released during ordinary production of nuclear power and weapons, and certainly not safe from radiation released in a nuclear accident. But the risk is not equally shared - it targets our most vulnerable populations. This high-risk group also includes the elderly and the infirm.
1. There is no "safe" dose of radiation -- every exposure has the risk of adverse health outcomes, including fatal cancer; all life-forms are impacted, not only our species;
2. The outcome from radiation most studied is cancer -- but it is not the only health impact;
3. Children are most vulnerable to harm from radiation due to smaller body mass and rapid cell division; and girls are more impacted than boys;
4. Women are 50 percent more vulnerable to harm from a given level of exposure compared to men (this may be due to greater mass of radiosensitive reproductive tissue in females);
5. Some people are born with a gene that makes them more vulnerable to radiation harm;
6. Internal exposure results from breathing contaminated air, drinking contaminated water or eating contaminated food and this results in higher levels (and generally longer exposure) to tissue than purely external doses like X-rays;
7. Current methods of calculating radiation doses do not account for the difference of internal and external exposure, or gender; sometimes age and body mass are factored, but usually not when reporting an ambient radiation level.
The total release of radioactivity from the Fukushima disaster, measured in Curies or Becquerels has not yet been estimated, in part because it has not ended. We know the radioactivity from Japan has "gone global" since the radioactive air masses circled the Northern Hemisphere repeatedly. We cannot reliably know what the consequences over time will be; we will hear many estimates in the years to come, and most of these estimates will not agree with each other. Barring change, most will under-report the consequences for women and for children since: the regulation of radiation and nuclear activity (worldwide) ignores the disproportionately greater harm to both women and children. *7