Radioactive Times: LLRC Journal

Have cancer charities been tricked into a nuclear cover-up? Long-awaited childhood cancer study is skewed to ignore nuclear pollution

Report from Radioactive Times Volume 3, Number 2, October 1999 (content not updated)

A meeting in London on 13th December [1999] will hear early results of the UK Childhood Cancer Study, which began in 1992.

Sir Richard Doll, chairman of the United Kingdom Co-ordinating Committee on Cancer Research (UKCCCR) management committee which administers the study, will chair the meeting. LLRC will not be invited, despite the campaign's long interest in the design of the study. Dr Peter Twentyman, UKCCCR's secretary, told Radioactive Times that it is a private meeting to inform project workers and funding organisations about progress and to explain the results of the first study. This is an investigation of possible links between childhood cancer and electromagnetic fields (EMFs).

EMFs form one of the five hypotheses being studied. According to the original protocol, the others are ionising radiation, in utero or post natal exposure to chemicals, pre-conception exposure to ionising radiation and chemicals, and infections and population mobility.

LLRC has been critical of the study for several years. Chris Busby said: "When it was announced, our immediate response was that this was a good opportunity to look at the role of nuclear pollution."

The study's first hypothesis looks promising: "Childhood cancer may be caused by exposure of the child to ionising radiations, either in utero or postnatally, including both radiations from man-made sources and from terrestrial low LET (linear energy transfer) gamma radiation and high LET alpha particle radiation from natural sources either individually or combined."

In 1993, however, LLRC learned that the man-made isotopes would only be studied if radon and gamma rays seemed to be causing increased risk." Busby felt this was a failure, a criticism which he published in his book Wings of Death, published in 1995.

The target for his criticism was Professor Cartwright, director of the Leukaemia Research Fund's Centre for Clinical Epidemiology at Leeds University. Cartwright has a central role in the study. Not only does he serve on the Management Committee, but his Centre is also responsible for training interviewers, printing and distributing forms, quality control and storage of data, organising meetings of all participants, management of biological samples and radiation monitoring, supplying computer software, and distribution of completed data sets.

In 1998 LLRC asked the Department of Health whether the study would be capable of revealing anything about man-made radiation. Replying, Dr Hilary Walker said that the original five hypotheses were unchanged and that "it might be possible to trawl the data" for the type of information which interests LLRC. Clarification would have to be requested from Professor Cartwright. LLRC sent a request. Some months later, following intervention by a Member of Parliament, Cartwright replied:

"The United Kingdom Childhood Cancer Study will have data on exposure to various kinds of ionising radiation and which [sic] will include radioisotopes from medical sources, as well as other [sic] medical X-rays and the like and also from environmental radon and gamma, which are, after all, by far the greatest and most variable exposures in this area. The study has made no attempt whatsoever to ascertain exposure from the trivial levels of artificial radioisotopes consequent on atmospheric and aqueous discharges."
This news shows that Dr Walker was mistaken and, more seriously, that the study has ignored half of its first hypothesis - the one that could have embarrassed the nuclear establishment. The kindest interpretation is that those responsible have naively accepted the conventional physics-based model of radiation hazard, according to which radiation doses from observed levels of nuclear pollution are too low to affect cancer and leukaemia rates.

LLRC has recently learnt that when the results of the study are available they will be considered by the Geographical Assessment Group (known as GAS) of the Committee on Medical Aspects of Radiation in the Environment.
The Chairman of GAS is Professor Cartwright, who is also a member of the organising committee of the British Nuclear Energy Society.

Funds for the Childhood Cancer Study come from multiple sources, including the LRF, the Kay Kendall Leukaemia Fund, other cancer charities, and national and private industry.

UKCCCR's members are the Cancer Research Campaign, the Imperial Cancer Research Fund, the Medical Research Council, the Institute of Cancer Research, the Leukaemia Research Fund, the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research, Marie Curie Cancer Care, and Tenovus Cancer Fund.

UKCCCR is funded jointly by the CRC, ICRF and MRC. The Department of Health has an "observer" role.

Results of the radon exposure study are expected to be ready early next year.

LLRC asks Professor Cartwright some questions


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