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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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:
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
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!
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.
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.