Radioactive Times: LLRC Journal

Children of the arms race

report from Radioactive Times Volume 3, Number 1, March 1999 (content not updated)

Chris Busby has been trying for some time to examine the possibility that a proportion of the increases in childhood leukemia which began in the early 1980s is a result of fallout exposure to the parents, who would have been born in the peak weapons fallout years 1955-63. He raised this possibility at the 1996 House of Commons Symposium on the Health Effects of Low Level Radiation (Bramhall, Green Audit: 1996) when drawing attention to the increases in childhood leukemia in Wales after Chernobyl in 1986. There were, he noted, a two peaks in the incidence trend of childhood leukemia in the 0-4 age group, in 1984 and 1988. Could this be an echo of the two Strontium and Plutonium fallout peaks in 1959 and 63? This is what we might expect since 25 is the peak year for women to have children.

Gerald Draper again

As a first attempt to see if the data could be obtained, in January 1996 Busby contacted Dr Gerald Draper, Director of the Oxford Childhood Cancer Research Group. Dr. Draper is often to be found at the centre of any childhood leukemia and radiation controversy, arguing that radiation is not to blame. Draper said that the data probably could not be obtained. A few months later, in April 1996, Busby turned to the OPCS child health department, who told him that by coincidence, Dr Draper had already asked for this same data to be extracted from records and had arranged to pay for the work. Therefore, they said, Draperís file could be made available quite cheaply.

In the event, and after many phone calls and negotiations with Beverly Botting of ONS (as OPCS is now called), the data has still not appeared, 'though the charge is now to be £1,000! At one time, Busby was told that the hold-up was a consequence of the suicide of the clerk who was working on the case in Southport. He has also been trying to get similar data promised by Professor Alice Stewart from her OSCC mortality database, now administered by Dr Tom Sorahan of Birmingham University. No luck there either: the database apparently stops at the critical year.

Support for the hypothesis that parental exposure to weapons fallout resulted in excess risk in their children comes from a small sample of data provided by Alasdair Phillips, who studies the relation between EM fields and leukemia. The two histograms below compare the distribution of years of birth of children diagnosed with leukemia with that of their parents.

(2KB) distribution of year of birth of children diagnosed with leukaemia (1KB)distribution of year of birth of parents of children diagnosed with leukaemia
Left: distribution of year of birth of children diagnosed with leukaemia in Phillips' database.
Right: distribution of year of birth of parents of same children.

Note that the children were born between 1970 and 1995 with no clear pattern. However, the parents' birth years show a strong clustering around the peak period of fallout exposure.


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