Environmental Group Says Study Shows Those Living Near Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant Have Higher Mortality Rates

Thursday, June 6, 2013

An environmental group said the results of a detailed investigation released today "reveal potential health hazards from radioactive emissions for residents near Browns Ferry Nuclear Power Plant."

  Bellefonte Efficiency & Sustainability Team/Mothers Against Tennessee River Radiation (BEST/MATRR) officials said the study "found potential links between radioactive emissions from Browns Ferry and adverse health effects in seven counties near the plant."

The group said, "Citizen-based monitoring shows preliminary patterns indicating that Browns Ferry may be adding to environmental radioactivity levels, especially at downwind and downriver sites, and after rain events.  It shows that residents in DeKalb, Jackson, Lawrence, Limestone, Madison, Marshall, and Morgan counties are at greater risk of illness and death than residents in communities farther away from a nuclear plant." 

Since Browns Ferry’s startup in the mid-1970s, the local mortality rate (all causes) steadily rose from 1.7% to 20.5% above U.S. rate.  Nearly 1 million persons live within 50 miles of the plant, the study says. 

“For those of us living near Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant, this is startling and alarming news. We need public health alerts, like pollen or weather alerts, when radiation is released from Browns Ferry,” said Gretel Johnston, co-author of the report and a Jackson County, Ala., resident. 

·         In 1968-1974, largely before operations at Browns Ferry began, the local mortality rate was just 1.7% above the U.S. Thereafter, the gap steadily increased, until by 2009-2010, the local rate was 20.5% greater – the largest elevation in at least 43 years.  (U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), the study says.

·         Infant mortality in the seven closest downwind counties from Browns Ferry in 2009-2010 was 21.6% above U.S. rate, a steady increase from the early 1990s, when it was below U.S. rate. The excess is 40.3% for Hispanics and 32.6% for whites.  (U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), it was stated.

·       The study also says:

    Of the 10 Alabama counties with the highest incidences of thyroid cancer from 2005-2009, four (4) are among the seven-proximate/downwind counties.  (National Cancer Institute, State Cancer Profiles)  Radioactive iodine produced by nuclear power or bombs is the only known cause of thyroid cancer.

·         Local death rates in the seven counties surrounding Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant were especially high for young persons. From 1999-2010, the rates for persons who died at age 0-24 and 25-44 were 27.4% and 25.7% higher than the U.S. rates, respectively. (U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

·         Since fall 2012, local citizen group Bellefonte Efficiency & Sustainability Team (BEST) monitoring has recorded radiation levels from double to 40 times greater than background levels downwind and downriver from Browns Ferry, with only near background readings upwind and upriver. Since the highest levels recorded were found 70 miles downwind, early datum suggest the possibility that radioactivity from Browns Ferry may travel long distances before returning to earth.  

“We find it hard to believe the mantra we hear from the nuclear industry saying there is no need to worry about radiation exposure even though numerous studies tell a different story,” said Garry Morgan, Scottsboro member of Bellefonte Efficiency & Sustainability Team (BEST).  “We couldn’t get any real time information about radiation emissions from Tennessee Valley Authority, Nuclear Regulatory Commission, or the Environmental Protection Agency,” he added, “so we decided to take our own measurements.”

In October 2012, measurements began. Fifty data collection sites were established surrounding Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant.  A background level of radiation was determined after which counts per minute of alpha, beta, gamma, and X-ray radiation above background levels were recorded in air, water, and land.   All measurements were taken using a protocol from the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Homeland Security.  The group found that the highest levels of radiation were detected in Scottsboro, 70 miles downwind of the Browns Ferry site, it was stated.

BEST commissioned epidemiologist Joseph Mangano, MPH, MBA, Director of Radiation & Public Health Project, who provided background historical and community health information and analyzed the radiation data collected by the citizen team for the report.  Data from Montgomery, Alabama was used as a control community because there is no nearby nuclear plant. 

“The measurements from the collection sites taken by the BEST radiation monitoring team coupled with older data before and during Browns Ferry Nuclear reactor operations show a troubling pattern of increased rates of morbidity, mortality, and incidences of cancers for those living downwind from Browns Ferry, especially for infants,” said Mr. Mangano.

The authors of the study recommend spectrographic analysis to identify offending radionuclides and their sources. 

Bellefonte Efficiency & Sustainability Team/Mothers Against Tennessee River Radiation (BEST/MATRR) is a local chapter of the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League.   The full report may be downloaded at www.matrr.org or www.bredl.org.

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