Please tell me - what is the hazard of living in Wales?

Because of our research findings we are sometimes asked whether it is advisable to live in Wales, or to bring up children there.

Our response

"It is a worrying responsibility to be asked for advice, and it's difficult to be specific about exactly where is safe, and where is not. The highest risks are associated with sandy and muddy areas, especially near parts of the sea were tidal energy / movement is low, so that fine sediments settle out. Radioactivity is known to adhere to the fine particles. Lavan Sands near Bangor is an example with quite extreme concentrations of radioactivity; cancer rates in the coastal towns of north Wales are several times above the national average. The same effect is observable but less extreme near other muddy areas in west Wales.

Mud banks which dry out at low tide have a stronger chance of transmitting their radioactive burden onto nearby shores because of the mechanical disturbance at the surf line. One should be wary of estuaries too, because of the silt and low tidal energy, especially in dry weather conditions when plutonium-bearing particles will be the more easily resuspended.
Pebbly and stony beaches are very unlikely to act as repositories for radioactivity.

Where fine sediments are deposited, the problem is that people risk inhaling the particles. This is to be avoided, as the small particles will be scavenged from the lungs to the lymph nodes - the heart of our immune defences. We have discovered that this type of exposure is completely underestimated by the NRPB.

It is already known that estuaries are associated with higher cancer rates, and have been since long before the dawn of nuclear power (possibly the fine muds and silts are vehicles for natural radionuclides - we may be closing in on identifying a mechanism of cancer induction here). It is certain that plutonium from the Irish Sea does migrate onto the land - it has been detected as far away as the east coast of England. The highest concentrations are within a mile or so of the sea, dropping off to remain fairly flat across the rest of the country.

Wales is the only place where the cancer risks have been analysed over a whole coastline. The highest risks are to children living within a mile or so of the sea; the risk drops off rapidly as you go further inland. So we can see that a disease and a known cause of the disease show the same distribution. The effect certainly exists, deny it though the authorities do.

What can parents do?
Possibly the best advice is never let small children play in estuarine or tide-washed mud; make sure that if they are playing on littoral sand and mud they they don't eat it or put fingers and found objects in their mouths, and make sure they wash their hands in clean water before taking food.

Avoid the beaches in hot dry weather, because of the inhalation problem.
It is heartbreaking to have to advise people to do this. Frightening people is hard for us to live with, and we utterly reject the nuclear lobby's accusations of "sadism".
The fact is that we are forced to use human statistics to determine whether there is an unappreciated hazard from nuclear pollution, because it is the strongest kind of evidence that can be used. Animal data is too easily dismissed by the nuclear establishment, and in any case the low doses we are concerned with would produce inconclusive results in any but the most massive and impossibly expensive animal experiments.

Leaving the research undone is not an option. Having found the effect, failing to publish it and failing to advise people accordingly are not options either.

The risk of childhood cancer near the coast is still low in absolute terms. Life is a lottery, and people make their own decisions about risk. We feel a responsibility to tell people the facts which official agencies simply deny so that they can make informed choices.

And in answer to a similar query from West Mersea, in Essex, early in 2001 (unedited since then)

Your message brings home to me what a dreadful responsibility it is to be the bearer of the kind of bad news which, as NRPB is determinedly ignoring this issue, we have to specialise in. If many people are going to move as a result of our research, house prices will fall, and some people will be in financial traps. Added to anxiety, that could be as great a health hazard as the radioactivity. What dilemmas!

The news reports were over the top. Risks in the Blackwater estuary are not 3 times the average - it's more like 1.5 to 2 times. The highest is in Woodham, which is 2.7 times. These figures are bad enough and are a real finding, not a statistical blip.

So what are you to do? I don't like to give advice, but I think that if I were in your shoes I would take my children out of the area. We have very good reason to believe (though it's just a working hypothesis at the moment) that the problem is with radioactive particles in the sea and the river which can be resuspended and inhaled. This seems to make the Blackwater 'specially risky, as there is such a lot of mud exposed any time except high water. A less muddy river like the Crouch would be better, and this is supported by the breast cancer mortality map, which shows normal rates in Burnham.
The study we have done is only of 3 categories - breast cancer, prostate and "all cancers". It's the breast cancer which is most closely associated with the Blackwater, but the other categories show higher risks in the 26 wards we looked at than you would expect on the basis of national rates. We are going on to look in more detail, and will report in the early summer 2001 (we can't do it any sooner, I'm afraid). There is a real need for a much more detailed study looking at exactly where the people with cancers are living and the amount of radioactivity they are or have been exposed to. This is a bigger study than we can do, and we shall be pressing for the MPs the local councils and the Health Authority to get the Environment Agency and the Department of the Environment Transport and the Regions involved. This will take all the political and public pressure that can possibly be applied.

I agree that decommissioning is a worry, as BNFL will want to release more radioactive junk. They must be stopped. The local campaigns groups are aware of this.

We can't claim to have proved that Bradwell is causing the problems, but I certainly think it is so.

You ask what to avoid if you do move. Well, I'd say stay away from Sellafield and from nuclear power stations and the atomic weapons establishments in Oxfordshire and Berkshire (or at least stay upwind of them.) Get as far away from overhead power lines as possible, and choose upwind of power lines rather than downwind. Don't live near mobile 'phone masts.

The best protection against disease is a healthy immune system; love, happiness and lack of stress are immune boosters. If you were going to move from a relatively stress free life in West Mersea to a more stressed life somewhere else, you might well have increased your family's risk factors. Wherever you are, Selenium tablets, a diet rich in fruit and vegetables with not a lot of meat, getting plenty of sleep and feet-up time, and keeping warm are all stress reducers. I also think that fighting a worth-while fight is good for you, though personally I find it stressful having to stand up in meetings and take on bastards like BNFL and some of the malevolent gerbils NRPB puts into the field. So possibly you'd do well to stay in West Mersea and take them on. It's certainly a brilliantly successful campaign so far and it comes at a vital time in the history of radiation protection, as ideas are changing fast - aided by the efforts of people like you, and the others.

Oh, and never never never have mammography. X-rays can cause tumours from scratch and may promote pre-existing ones; in other words, there's a definite chance that if they find a tumour in your breast this year it was caused by the x-ray you had on the last visit. Find a good clinic to teach you how to monitor your own breasts by palpating them. We have it on good authority that the protective effects are just as good as x-ray screening with none of the risks.

If your children want mobile 'phones (they're sure to) teach them that texting is far better than voice calls, which should only be for emergencies. Also that using mobiles in a low signal area is far worse than where signals are strong, as the 'phone compensates for the low signal by putting out 10 or more times the amount of power - and of course it goes straight into the user's skull.

Best wishes
etc. etc.

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