Buffalo BEAST - Buffalo's New Best Fiend

Issue #70    Buffalo's New Best Fiend       March 9th - March 23, 2005
Tumors for Sale
by Allan Uthman
ABOUT WHAT'S ON PAGE 7 - I'm Not Sorry
by Matt Taibbi
About the Upcoming Death of the Pope
by Matt Taibbi
by Gabe Armstrong
SPOILER - AV Publisher Ruins Movie for WNY
MIDDLE AMERICA - Out of Step with Hollywood Values
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Tumors for Sale
by Allan Uthman
I learned recently about a disturbing incident in our city's near past. In 1981, a local TV station offered to survey gold jewelry for free. In two days, they found three radioactive items. This startling event prompted the NYS Department of Health to launch a campaign to find similarly contaminated jewelry. From over 160,000 pieces surveyed they found 170 contaminated-about one in a thousand, "mostly from western New York and nearby Pennsylvania," according to the journal Health Physics.

At least fourteen people developed cancer in their fingers from radioactive rings, some of whom required amputation of their fingers or larger parts of their hands as a result. At least one man died, the cancer having spread through his body. News reports alleged that the "hot" gold came from The Roswell Park Cancer Institute. In a procedure dating back to the '20s, radon-filled gold capsules were implanted in patients to combat tumors. The capsules were only useful for a couple of days, so some local genius decided to salvage the gold, which was used primarily for jewelry repair. Two attempts to sue New York State failed, and it was ruled that Roswell Park was not liable.

Crazy story, huh? But it could become a common occurrence-not only here, and not only in jewelry, but throughout the US and in all kinds of materials.

It sounds like a joke, but the Department of Energy, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission-all agencies whose very names have become cruel jokes under the Bush administration-are trying in concert to weaken the rules by which "low-level" radioactive waste is dealt handled. Specifically, the plan is to recycle the waste-mainly scrap metal-for public consumption.

Yes, you read that right. If the White House gets its way, millions of tons of radioactive metal-steel, copper, nickel, and aluminum-will be sold to foundries and used to make-well, anything they make, from bridges to baby strollers to butter knives. Even the metal industry doesn't want this to happen. But the European Commission and the International Atomic Energy Agency have already set their own maddeningly lax standards for such waste. International transport rules already allow the unregulated transport of unlabeled radioactive scrap metal, and the US Department of Transportation is trying to do the same.

Why would they do it? Disposing of nuclear waste is expensive, and getting steeper all the time. By recycling the stuff, the industry can save many billions of dollars, the same way they're already saving money by giving their depleted uranium to the Pentagon for use in tanks and weapons, rather than burying it in concrete bunkers.

This plan has been tried twice before, in 1986 and 1990, but was stopped by public outcry and legislative action. But now, with an entirely Republican-controlled federal government, it's pretty much a shoo-in.

What does "low-level" mean? According to Dr. Judith Johnsrud from the Sierra Club, "'Low-level' does not mean 'low hazard' to human health. All exposures to ionizing radiation, including naturally-occurring background radiation, carry risks to the recipient of somatic injury-e.g., leukemia, latent cancers, heart disease, and, it is now thought, immune system dysfunctions-as well as genetic damage, both physical and mental abnormalities." By the NRC's own estimates, the rule change will result in 100,000 more cancer deaths.

Already, the results of this are showing in other nations. China has been a big customer for contaminated steel from America and elsewhere, and this steel has found its way into frying pans-and buildings. Seven years ago, there were already 178 buildings in Taiwan with contaminated pipes and fittings. Background radiation levels in some were over a thousand times normal. Tenants developed cancer, congenital disorders, chromatic mutation, and other terrible ailments. Many still live in these buildings.

Shockingly, the NRC already allows this type of thing on a "case by case" basis, amounting to several thousands of tons of radioactive metal per year going into public structures and consumer goods, without labels, warnings, or even any media coverage. In fact, for a story this outrageous, the dearth of material in the mainstream media is conspicuous in the extreme. You'd almost think they didn't want you to know about it. There are a couple of articles over the last few years in Mother Jones and the Progressive, and Public Citizen has pushed the issue, but I couldn't find anything from the big dailies or the right wing press at all.

The silence on the right isn't too surprising, because this is the kind of story that just doesn't spin well. I don't care how much you hate hippies; cancer is not a moral value. This isn't about spotted owls and logging jobs, it's about making sure your kid's first Huffy isn't going to give him leukemia. No business' bottom line can take precedence over that, and even the most virulent red state Coulterite can see that. So the strategy to get this palpably evil rule change through is simply to pretend it isn't happening. And it appears, so far, to be working.

Somehow, issues of public health and the environment have been cast as fringe-left fodder, when it's clear they are of equal import to every single one of us. It's hard to understand, but the media doesn't seem too concerned either. An AP story from February 28th says it all:

IQ Loss Linked to Mercury Deemed Costly: Lower IQ levels linked to mercury exposure in the womb costs the United States $8.7 billion a year in lost earnings potential, according to a study released Monday by researchers at a New York hospital.

So this is what we've come to--evidence that people are actually being stupefied by mercury pollution isn't remarkable in itself; but $8.7 billion in lost earnings potential-now that's serious!

I don't really see how anyone can believe Bush's rhetoric on values, protecting America, and all that garbage while he's quietly contaminating our homes with radioactive metal. It is yet another dead giveaway that the man simply cannot be trusted, maybe the clearest one yet. But somehow I don't see many of the faithful coming up for air at this point, even if he just started shooting people at random.

The NRC will be floating the new rule this month. There will have to be a period for public comment at some point this year, and they'll have to tell you how and where to comment on their website. Go there and say something.

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