New cluster of childhood leukaemia near naval dockyard, Plymouth

Questionnaire Survey finds massive leukaemia cluster
near Plymouth Naval Dockyard

In 2003, in response to fears about radiation exposure to discharges of Tritium and other radioactive materials from the nuclear submarine refits at the Plymouth Naval Dockyard, the local group CANSAR undertook a health survey of the wards of Keyham and Torpoint. (see note on wards)

The questionnaires were analysed by Green Audit, the independent environmental group based in Aberystwyth. Results (report available on this site) showed that in the ten years 1994-2003 there was an 18-fold excess risk of leukaemia in Keyham based on 7 reported cases with 0.38 expected in the respondent population. In Torpoint, the excess was 4.7-fold with 4 cases reported and 0.84 expected on the basis of national rates. In Keyham, the effect was greatest in young people under 54 ( RR = 30.6; p < 0.0000 based on 3 reported and 0.098 expected) but this was not the case in Torpoint.

In addition, a proportional incidence analysis was carried out in which the ratios of leukaemias to all cancers found were compared with the ratio expected nationally. In both Keyham ( Ratio = 19.8 times ) and Torpoint (ratio = 5.2 times) the excess leukaemia risk indicated was in good agreement with the risk obtained by direct calculation. Results showed that all cancer risk was also significantly elevated in both wards (NOTE). In Keyham for all ages there were 39 cases of cancer reported with 20 expected RR = 1.9; p = 0.0001. In Torpoint there were 76 cases reported with 45.8 expected, RR = 1.7; p = 0.0001. Cancer risk was highest in both wards in the younger people. For Keyham in the age group <54 risk increased to 7.46, based on 10 cases (p = 0.00000) and in Torpoint in the same age group the figure was 9.0, based on 7 cases; (p = 0.00000). The authors draw attention to the recent finding by the local health authority of a 25-30% excess leukaemia incidence in Plymouth in 1995-1999 mentioned in a submission to the Environment Agency consultation in 2001.

Dr Chris Busby, of Green Audit, who is a member of two UK government committees examining the effects of man-made radioactive contamination on health said,
"The worrying and significant excess risk from leukaemia shown by the results of this study are a further manifestation of the radiation related sea- coast effect we discovered in earlier studies including questionnaire studies in Somerset, Essex and in populations living near the Irish Sea exposed to material from Sellafield. The risk models underlying the government's agreements to release these materials are out of date and scientifically unsafe. There is even a new UK government committee examining the matter, CERRIE" (Committee Examining Radiation Risk of Internal Emitters)"
He added, "It is a disgrace that local people have to run around handing out questionnaires to overcome the fact that cancer data for small areas are now kept secret by the authorities."

The results of the CANSAR were part of a presentation by Dr Busby at the CND/Green Party public meeting at the Guildhall, Royal Parade Plymouth at 7.30 p.m. on Thursday 11th March.
Michael Meacher, who was Environment Minister at the time of the radioactive discharge authorisation, also spoke.


1 Chris Busby, PhD Cancer and Leukaemia and Radioactive Pollution from HM Dockyard, Plymouth Report 04/04; March 2004 Aberystwyth: Green Audit Get the report (as a pdf file 113Kb)

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