In the category of “you learn something new every day – if you pay attention” I have just spend a pleasant couple of hours geeking out on presentations full of graphs of plutonium exposures and depositions of other transuranic elements. The experience helped me to refresh my understanding of how careful studies performed during the past 60 years have led to some useful conclusions about the magnitude of the health hazard to human beings from exposure to what Ralph Nader and Helen Caldicott have repeatedly called “the most toxic substance on earth.”
You can share the same learning experience by visiting the site of the United States Transuranium & Uranium Registries which is hosted by the Washington State University College of Pharmacy. At that site you will find a number of well developed presentations and videos showing off some careful epidemiology and biological investigations that involved detailed autopsies of people with known levels of occupational exposure. For folks who just do not have the kind of time for research that can be made available by frequent bouts of insomnia, here are the conclusions from a presentation that Dr. Anthony James gave to a Joint Meeting of the Hanford Advisory Board on January 8, 2009.
Conclusions – Plutonium “Toxicity”
- As for all other internally-incorporated radionuclides, the health effects of plutonium depend purely on the amount of plutonium in the tissues – i.e., on the amount of radiation DOSE delivered to the tissues.
- Very small amounts of plutonium – as already present in everyone (worldwide) have NEGLIGIBLE TO ZERO effect on human health.
- It is hard to imagine any (realistic) exposure scenario that would lead to SIGNIFICANT intake of plutonium by members of the public from WELL MANAGED operations at the Hanford Site (or other clean-up sites).
- Any SIGNIFICANT HEALTH HAZARD from plutonium would fall on WORKERS involved in HANDLING concentrated sources of plutonium.
- It is imperative that CAREFUL AND COMPREHENSIVE MANAGEMENT of all plutonium clean-up work be maintained – to PROTECT WORKERS.
- PLUTONIUM IS NOT THE MOST TOXIC SUBSTANCE KNOWN TO MAN!
- DON’T IGNORE “INDUSTRIAL HYGIENE” – CHEMICAL TOXINS! They are likely to pose a bigger “real” risk.
(Emphasis in the form of red color and capitalization is in the original work.)
Bottom line – Ralph Nader and Helen Caldicott are dead wrong. Ralph has a bit of an excuse – he was trained as a lawyer.
Dr. Caldicott, however, has no such excuse for ignoring science and claiming that nearly a million people have died because of radioactive fallout. She was trained as a physician and founded the Physicians for Social Responsibility. One of the responsibilities that physicians have is to the Hippocratic Oath. Worry and stress are huge health risks; anyone who makes a career out of falsely imposing fear in spite of scientific evidence that contradicts the stated reasons for the fear is guilty of repeatedly violating that oath.