2002 CPEO Military List Archive

From: UTOSI-Hdqrs@kc.rr.com
Date: 24 Jan 2002 20:23:35 -0000
Reply: cpeo-military
Subject: [CPEO-MEF] Fwd: Radiation exposure threatens Indians

Date: Thu, 24 Jan 2002 10:08:43 -0800

Radiation exposure threatens Indians

American Indians may have been exposed to more radiation from Hanford releases into the Columbia River than earlier estimated, a new study suggests. "There's always been that big concern," said Bill Burke, one of the chiefs of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation. Indians may have eaten more fish than others living in the area and prepared it in a way that exposed them to more potentially cancer-causing radiation than other people living near Hanford, according to a draft report prepared for the federal government by Risk Assessment Corp. The federal government spent $25 million in the 1990s to develop comprehensive estimates of the amounts and types of radiation people were exposed to in the years Hanford was operating. But there have been concerns that the Indian lifestyle was so different from that of white farmers and others living in the region that radiation exposure to Indians may have been underestimated.

A draft study presented Wednesday in Kennewick at the Inter-Tribal Council for Hanford Health Projects made no new estimates on exposure levels to tribal members. But it concluded past estimates may be too low because they did not adequately consider the Indian lifestyle. Much of the Hanford Environmental Dose Reconstruction, or HEDR, project has been used to estimate exposure to radioactive iodine released into the air from the nuclear reservation and carried downwind in the 1940s and primarily the early 1950s. But HEDR also considered radioactive isotopes that contaminated water used to cool fuel rods and then was returned to the river. HEDR concluded, and the most recent draft study agreed, that most of the danger from the river contamination would be from eating fish that had accumulated radiation. However, HEDR assumed that people might eat about 90 pounds of fish per year, said Ed Liebow, a cultural anthropologist and consultant on the recent draft study. But from reports from historians and from many tribes who fished downstream, the new study concluded that fish was so central to the diet of many Indians that one might eat an average of 1 1/2 pounds per day.

"We agree it is an upper boundary, but it is realistic," Liebow said.
The fish estimates in the HEDR also did not consider strontium isotopes which concentrate in the bones of the fish, not the flesh that white families might have eaten. However, boiling the fish for stew releases the radioactive strontium from the bone. "How fish was consumed was different from tribe to tribe," Liebow said. But typically during the fishing season, American Indian families would camp along the Columbia River and smoke fish on alder frames. The leftover parts might be put in a stew pot and boiled to have food ready for people working around the clock. In the winter, dried fish from the catches would be eaten, often in a stew, he said. The new draft report looks at fish consumption and radiation releases from 1944 to 1972. Releases were particularly high during the 1960s when many reactors were operating, and many Indians continued to eat a diet rich with fish.

New estimates consider that about two-thirds of the fish in the Indian diet might be from salmon or steelhead that were returning to the Columbia and might not be as contaminated as fish living year round. Species such as trout, white fish and eels that make up the remaining third might contain more radiation. While some of those activities could have increased exposure to radiation, the main risk remained fish, said Helen Grogan, a scientific consultant on the study.

While HEDR did not consider strontium radiation, the highest risk from fish consumption was from arsenic isotopes which HEDR did consider, Grogan said. However, that assumed that the fish was eaten immediately, since it decays quickly, losing about half its radioactivity in about a day. The National Academy of Sciences is reviewing the draft report, and public comment is being accepted.

Fax comments to 404-498-1811, e-mail to cmw6@cdc.gov or write to CDC, National Center for Environmental Health, Division of Environmental Hazards and Health Effects, Radiation Studies Branch (Mailstop E-39), 1600 Clifton Road NE, Atlanta, GA 30333.

The draft study also will be discussed today at a meeting of the Hanford Health Effects Subcommittee at the WestCoast Tri-Cities Hotel in Kennewick. The group meets starting at 8:30 a.m. today and Friday.

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